"You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit." Harry S. Truman
This next few posts we are going to look at leadership and the type of leadership that Jim Collins in his best seller, "Good To Great", describes as Level 5 leadership. I appreciate Collins work on leadership because he was NOT studying leadership when he began to do his research on "great" companies and why they stand above "good" companies. He and his research team were not interested in looking at leadership in particular but the research pointed them in that direction. This is why I believe his findings resonate and are compelling to those of us who consult with leadership or are leaders. His findings are simple and stand as a good mirror for us to look at and evaluate where we are in terms of our own leadership.
The lessons that you need to explore from this next series of posts are this; take an earnest look at this leadership "type", evaluate it in terms of it's application for moving into or improving your leadership (formal or otherwise) and also use it as a template to look for role models in your organizations that exemplify those characteristics and learn from them.
Lets start with the first characteristic that Collins identifies; Ambition. This at first seems counter-intuitive because as Collins describes it this is not personal ambition of the variety that seeks self advancement or self promotion. In fact the Level 5 leaders that are identified in the research are rather modest, shy and humble with regard to themselves. However, when it came to the company, when it came to the organization they were fiercely ambitious and driven. The key is that they were harnessing their energy and will toward the good of the company not themselves. This unusual duality is a hallmark of this kind of leadership.
Stop and reflect on whether you have ever come across this style of leader in your career. Chances are they were there but I almost guarantee they did not stand out. These would have been the leaders in the company or group who in fact may not have been considered the up and coming stars but whom everyone wanted to work for and whose groups always delivered results beyond expectations. Quiet, humble but able to garner loyalty and forge teams that got things done.
I recall an experience I had with a young leader with an oil and gas company. He was in some respects very similar to his peers, young and looking to prove himself in his new leadership role. What made him different was that he was quiet and unassuming and while others were looking to climb the ladder quickly so as to improve their position he seemed more interested in looking for ways to have his team both serve the company better and each other as well. He wasn't a braggart like some of the others but was keenly focused on improving his team.
He wanted to know about performance leadership and how to apply it to his crew. And over the course of the next year he took those lessons to heart, applied them to his leadership and his crew, experimented, asked questions, "tweaked" and worked at it so that by the end of that year he had the highest performing crew and they loved being on his team.
Having ambition is not bad - as long as you are harnessing it for the good of the company you work for or lead. If you stop to think about it which leaders have you responded the most positively too? Was it those who had a clear personal agenda for advancement and who looked at colleagues as stepping stones or those leaders who demonstrated a clear vision for the company or their team and were driven to make it a success?
There is a reason we use the term "harness" for things like harnessing energy or harnessing creativity or harnessing a team of horses. It is about work, getting something done, about focus and about performing a good that is beyond our personal needs at any given moment. Perhaps John F. Kennedy summed it up best when he stated "Ask not what your country (read company) can do for you, but ask instead what can you do for your country." A truly Level 5 sentiment.
How is your ambition? Where is your focus? Think about it.