This week has been an attempt to explore Jim Collins Level 5 leadership based on the key traits that his research team discovered when they studied "Good to Great" companies. Any set of human characteristics is hard to quantify and capture and Level 5 leadership is no different. How do you encapsulate in a few sentences all that goes into making a person a good leader? How do you capture all the nuances of what effective leadership is? Certainly this last trait highlights that challenge.
The whole idea of Level 5 leadership came out of the research Collins team had gathered in looking at a 1435 companies who had been on the Fortune 500 list at one point or another and the 11 companies that actually made the cut into the "great" category. When the research team looked at the leadership in each of those 11 companies they discovered that in each case they had leadership that shared very similar traits. In fact the findings were so congruent that they could not be ignored - hence Level 5 leadership.
In their follow up interviews with all of the Level 5 leaders in which they asked them to rank the top five factors in their companies transformation in order of importance for most of them the number one factor was luck! Every time the research team pushed back it was always luck -"we were in the right place at the right time, we were fortunate to have the right people in the company, or we were lucky to find the right successor." Luck, as strange as it seemed came up in almost every interview.
So of all the counter-intuitive components of Level 5 leadership this one seems to be the most compelling - until you begin to look a little deeper. Here we benefit from the research rigor of Collins' team in that for each "Good to Great" company they also studied a comparison company. One account is telling; the CEO of a "Good" steel company talked about luck as well but looked at it as bad luck. "Our first, second and third problems are imports." (Collins, Good to Great) On the other hand the CEO of the "Great" company talked about luck from this perspective; "Aren't we lucky that steel is heavy and they have to ship it all the way across the ocean giving us a huge advantage!" (Ibid) Both steel company CEO's, both in the same industry at the same time, both speak about luck but it is the perspective that distinguishes the great CEO from the good CEO and herein lies the distinction between a Level 5 leader and other leaders.
As Collins puts it, the "Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly." (Collins, Good to Great) It is like that great coach that everyone has encountered at some point in their lives, the one who is quick to give the team the credit for the win and take the blame on themselves for each loss. The window and the mirror.
Events that are considered either good luck and bad luck really aren’t that different, are they? Each is a critical point at which the event will turn for the better or for the worse. A mishandled opportunity becomes bad luck, and a well-managed crisis becomes good luck. The most important factor is not the challenge itself, but how you perceive and handle it.
I leave you with the quote by Harry Truman that we began this exploration with "You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit." Level 5 leaders can be found everywhere and yes, you can foster the traits of Level 5 leadership provided you are prepared to put the effort into it. It starts with the attitude reflected in the quote - easy to say - not so easy to do. You don't need "a position" to lead, you just do it. Wherever you work, make it "your" company, make it your business to know how what you do impacts the company's bottom line, make it your mission to improve that bottom line from where you are, in your role and make it your goal to invest in your colleagues and team members and be willing to help them succeed. It will strike against everything your instincts tell you to do but do it anyway and practice it every day and to quote Winston Churchill; "Never give up!"