by Jim Collins
Source: Harvard Business Review
13 pages. Publication date: Jul 01, 2005. Prod. #: R0507M-PDF-ENG
Boards of directors typically believe that transforming a company from good to great requires an extreme personality, an egocentric chief to lead the corporate charge. Think “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap or Lee Iacocca. But that’s not the case, says author and leadership expert Jim Collins. The essential ingredient for taking a company to greatness is having a “Level 5” leader, an executive in whom extreme personal humility blends paradoxically with intense professional will. In this January 2001 article, Collins paints a compelling and counterintuitive portrait of the skills and personality traits necessary for effective leadership. He identifies the characteristics common to Level 5 leaders: humility, will, ferocious resolve, and the tendency to give credit to others while assigning blame to themselves. Collins fleshes out his Level 5 theory by telling colorful tales about 11 such leaders from recent business history. He contrasts the turnaround successes of outwardly humble, even shy, executives like Gillette’s Colman M. Mockler and Kimberly-Clark’s Darwin E. Smith with those of larger-than-life business leaders like Dunlap and Iacocca, who courted personal celebrity. Some leaders have the Level 5 seed within; some don’t. But Collins suggests using the findings from his research to strive for Level 5–for instance, by getting the right people on board and creating a culture of discipline. “Our own lives and all that we touch will be the better for making the effort,” he concludes.
This article includes a one-page preview that quickly summarizes the key ideas and provides an overview of how the concepts work in practice along with suggestions for further reading.