Perhaps as key as a Level 5 leaders keen ambition for the success of the company is their desire to ensure that success continues after their departure. This alone is perhaps one of the most interesting distinctions of this style of leadership. In their research Collins and his team found that of the "good" companies they looked at over 3/4 had executives that picked weak successors or set their successors up for failure.
Early in my development as a leader I learned this principle from a colleague who bluntly stated that "his job was to work himself out of a job". What he was communicating was that as a leader he wanted to hire and develop others who were brighter and more capable than he was so that ultimately he would be out of a job but the company would be in far better hands. When we speak of Level 5 leadership as counter-intuitive this would definitely qualify as one of those features. How many places have you worked where leadership at all levels sought to solidify or enhance their position through keeping those talented and capable individuals who could help the company, far from the board rooms of decision making? Companies that operate in the kind of culture that inhibits ideas and innovation because they might undermine those in a position of authority tend to stagnate and eventually have to change or die. I say have to change because typically some crisis shakes up the status quo and they come to terms with urgency of needed change or they don't and these companies disappear.
Lets be clear, companies don't set out to stifle innovation and leadership but often success is their greatest enemy. As a company succeeds and grows management at first has free reign to speak to its processes and direction and there is a healthy and robust dialogue among the leadership. Patrick Lencioni in his excellent books "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" and "The Advantage - Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business" points to this healthy and unfiltered communication as key to successful organizations. But as the company prospers and grows more people are brought into the leadership echelon and rather than viewing these new players as assets and a fresh pool of ideas and perspectives they become perceived more and more as threats and a cause of mistrust. Communication begins to erode as leaders at all levels begin to leverage information to their advantage and soon the company becomes sluggish and slow to respond to customer and market forces. And the spiral of mediocrity begins.
How effective can this leadership trait of setting others up for success be? One of my favorite stories comes from my own research on leadership from Frakas and DeBarkers excellent book - Maximum Leadership. The leader in this example is Al Zeien who was CEO with Gillette from 1991 to 1999. Zeien who lived through the troubled take-over turmoil of the 1980's when Gillette was the target of no less than four hostile takeover attempts, exemplifies the Level 5 commitment to setting others up for success. During his tenure as CEO he conducted no less than 800 performance reviews of managers annually! These managers were located around the globe and Zeien who had also made it his mission to personally monitor and guide the careers of dozens his companies managers had a keen eye for talent always within the context of his ambition of what was best for the company. So involved was he in this commitment that he could be heard to remark "'Now, we have a manager in India who is originally from Japan, trained in Boston, spent two years in Houston for us, then back to Japan, before a stint in France, and then after that...'and at the end of reciting that career history could fire off one last piece of information that this manager had just had a baby boy!" (Maximum Leadership, Farkas and DeBaker). Zeien admits those take-over years were troubling times for the company but rather than succumb to the temptation to become secretive and distrustful Zeien continued to pour himself into setting his managers up for success.
Here is the kicker, Al Zeien was a recipient of that same leadership attention and commitment to his success at the hands of Colman Mockler the previous CEO of Gillette and cited by Jim Collins as an example of an outstanding Level 5 leader. It was Mockler who lead the company during those uncertain times and the benefit that Gillette continues to garner from this kind of leadership is staggering. On one of the take-over bids in 1986 the executive and shareholders would have realized an immediate 44 percent gain on their stock or about a $2.3 billion short term stock profit across 116 million shares ($30.40/share). However after ten years of Level 5 leadership first under Mockler and then under Zeien Gillette shares stood at $95.68/share, over three times the value of the take-over bid! (Good to Great - Collins)
Level 5 leaders believe in setting others up for success and always within that strong commitment to what is best for the company. This leadership trait is something that can be practiced regardless of where you are situated in the company structure. Foster the habit of looking around you at the people you work with and find ways to support them and set them up for success. Counter-intuitive maybe, effective - absolutely.