HBS Level 5 Leadership

My response to the HBS article Level 5 Leadership, the Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve:

I’m not really sure where to start with my response.  Collins is definitely a good writer and the article was very easy to read.  As much as I believe in what he’s saying it’s hard to swallow at times.  Circuit City is closing its stores and he had Alan Wortzel, the former CEO, labeled as a level 5 leader.  This is the same type of leader that he’s labeled as the type of person that selects great successors so that companies continue to succeed even after they’ve departed.  Knowing that, it makes some of his claims hard to agree with. 

I do believe in humility though, but not in a shy non-aggressive way.  As he describes, it’s humility that packs a behind closed doors punch, the same humility that is backed by fierce resolve as he calls it.  It’s that these individuals are so engaged by progress there’s just no time for boasting.  They wouldn’t boast anyways because I believe these are the type of individuals that learned through high school that socially they aren’t anything outstanding.  It’s another reason why these level 5 people pour so much effort into progress and resolve.  That’s the situation where they feel most comfortable and where they get the most positive feedback.

I loved what Darwin Smith, the CEO of Kimberly-Clark, said “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job”.  These level 5 leaders know what to do, but have a small part of themselves that don’t believe their own hype.  They doubt their own accomplishments just enough to keep themselves humble.  Mentally though, these type of people are extremely confident and are very quick to find answers.  They are passionately engrossed in finding solutions. 

Collins doesn’t believe that these 11 leaders that he’s talking about actually should credit luck as a benefactor.  Although, that’s the difference, to these leaders they recognize that part of it is luck and had nothing to do with them.  They just took what they had and worked with it.  It wasn’t about anything else besides doing the best with what you had.  These people always are working on something.  There’s no such thing as ‘down time’ for their minds. 

I believe that they’re drive is about reaching mastery in what they’re doing.  They don’t see it as this though.  That’s what so great about these leaders.  For them just about doing better and knowing that you can always do better.  As Daniel Pink describes, they’re continually approaching mastery believing that they will never get there, but they’re personalities tell them to keep working.  They just naturally work.  It’s where they find comfort.  Great article, great points, but unfortunately not all of the examples actually support his explanations.


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