The type of leadership that brings sustainable business success, the one that Jim Collins calls Level 5 Leadership, can be described by the mirror/window metaphor.
When successful, the Level 5 leaders look out of the window and credit everyone else; when faced with criticism or failure, they look in the mirror and take responsibility. The opposite behavior is unfortunately more frequent.
How can we foster more of the Level 5 transformational leadership that leads to success?
It was the year 2001 when Jim Collins published “Good to Great” and listed Level 5 Leadership among the top success criteria to make companies truly great, i.e. consistently and sustainably successful far and beyond similar companies in similar situations.
This type of leadership style paradoxically clashes with the traditional image of the charismatic leader that we so often find in the media. A Level 5 Leader still displays several of the capabilities and behaviors that are usually associated with traditional senior leadership: from strong diligence, discipline and process management skills to behaviors heavily tinted with high energy, fierce courage and strong will. The differentiating factor is in the motivation: Level 5 leaders are motivated by genuine passion and interest for the opportunity, not by personal greed or ego. They have an enormous ambition, not for themselves, but on behalf of the business they chose to drive. They often shy away from media, keeping a low profile and a simple style of living, while pouring enormous energy into the business at hand. Collins talks about the paradoxical combination of “humility and fierce resolve”.
As we all know, habits change slow, especially in large and highly structured organizations where the well-oiled machine of sound management systems may too often shut the door to new ideas and opportunities.
Thus, more than 10 years after the first publication of “Good to Great” and in spite of its vast global resonance, it is still mainly the ego-driven or lone-warrior managers that fill the highest ranks of most companies and reach global visibility in social media. It is the “I am better than you” or highly competitive leaders that continue to hold the reins of obsolete corporate cultures.
Yet, today more than ever, it is the transformational capabilities and the collaborative behaviors of Level 5 leaders that private and public businesses desperately need, in order to revamp innovation, sustain growth and engage employees.
But how can we find and train Level 5 Leaders? There are three key steps:
First of all, we cannot leave it to chance; we need to foster a Level 5 Leadership Culture.
Second, we must implement recruitment and promotion processes consistent with our desire to have Level 5 Leaders in all key position.
Third, we can support Level 5 Leaders with feedback and sounding board discussions
The main elements to foster a Level 5 Leadership Culture are
Alignment on a common high purpose; recall that profit can be one of the measures, but cannot be the purpose
Understanding of and compliance with shared values; e.g. value of collaboration (L5 Leaders typically partner with other leaders in order to achieve excellence of results), unselfish ambition, accountability (both individual and of teams) and learning from mistakes (which can open the door to fun, excitement and accelerated innovation)
Walking the talk at all levels; this means rewarding team accomplishments and celebrating strong performance, not indulging in individualistic ego-building excesses
Training on three critical behaviors:
Being open and clear about expectations, both functional and behavioral
Develop the courage to discourage a conflict avoidance culture and confront opposing views
Develop the humility to be able to ask for help
A Level 5 oriented recruitment and promotion process shall preferentially involve accurate behavioral evaluations, especially those ones that based on neuroscience (e.g. PRISM Brain mapping)
As for feedback and Sounding Board Dialogue, external coaches or specifically trained non-reporting internal coaches or peers are most recommendable.
Laura Lozza 2013