In the "I" centric world of today there are dozens of stories and articles of those larger than life ego driven leaders who produce dramatic results but typically never have the staying power to keep those results coming. You will hardly if ever find articles on Level 5 leaders because for them it is not about them, it is about the company and the great people that make it successful. They prefer to stay in the background, working hard and staying focused on what is best for the company and they never let ego get in the way. Another way to describe them would be the old term "they are pillars of the community."
It is a bit like comparing sprinters to distance runners in the Olympics. Quick now, who is the fastest man on the planet at the 100 yard dash? Now, who is the world record holder for the marathon? If you said Usain Bolt for the first question you would be right. If you said Patrick Makau for the second question you probably looked it up on Wikipedia like I just did! Isn't it funny how the fast movers get our attention? Yet in business, if you were honest with yourself, who would you prefer to lead your company, the fast mover or the marathoner?
Take the example of the Kerry Group. Never heard of them? Don't be surprised, the Kerry group has been shepherded by a series of modest, Level 5 leaders since its inception in 1972 as a small confectionery provider in the back of a trailer. It was headed at the time by a young accountant Denis Brosnan who was followed by two more low-key chief executives, Hugh Friel and Stan McCarthy. Still never heard of them? Under the guidance of these leaders the Kerry group has grown to a global company that employs more than 25,000 people with operations in over 25 countries across five continents. They are now a leading player in the global food industry with annual sales at almost $7 billion (U.S.). What makes this an even more interesting success story is that Kerry is an Irish company who succeeded without one dollar of government assistance. Here was a company based out of Ireland that weathered all the economic turmoil in that countries downturn when companies all around them were dropping like flies. Not only did they survive, they prospered. Other companies had the "sprinters" such as real estate developer Sean Dunne who went out in a blaze of glory when the Irish market crashed but the Kelly Group had the good fortune to be headed by quiet, modest, Level 5 leadership and it prospered.
When you go on the Kerry web-site you will see very little about its leaders, you will see a lot more about its mission and its commitment to the success of its employees and the well being of the communities they live in. In a day and age where employee engagement is so crucial to company health and growth, leadership willing to invest in and provide for a meaningful role for its staff will always do better than those companies that serve as platform for the uber-egos that lead them for their own gain.
So why is modesty a key feature of Level 5 leadership? I believe it is what empowers the first two traits; fierce ambition for all things good for the company and a willingness to invest in the success of others. You cannot focus your ambition on the good of the company if your agenda takes priority over the good of the company every time a tough choice has to be made. You cannot invest in the success of others if your only concern is for your welfare and not theirs. Modest leadership knows when to get out of the way and let the people they have developed fly. People can become amazingly invested in a company if they come to understand that the company is genuinely investing in them.