Level 5 Leadership

The best leaders are not always ‘charismatic’.

“Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”
– Jim Collins. Good to Great. 2001.

Jim Collins researched leadership styles in companies that had performed the best over the long term and found a special kind of leader – a leader that usually nobody had heard of. That is to say, these companies were not led by people who were ‘well known’ for their leadership, well publicised, and fitting the stereotype of the ‘strong visionary leader’. Instead they were hardworking, modest team-workers who didn’t conform to the classic leader image.

According to Jim Collins, a Level 5 Leader “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” Every one of the corporations that Collins identified as transforming itself from ‘good’ to ‘great’ had level 5 leaders in the critical transition phase. None of the comparison companies did. Furthermore, the colourful, dominant, celebrity leaders, are effective in the short term but do not achieve ‘good to great’ status for their companies, according to his research.

He describes Level 5 leaders as being timid and ferocious, shy and fearless and modest, with a fierce, unwavering commitment to high standards. Characteristics common to Level 5 leaders include: humility, will, ferocious resolve, and the tendency to give credit to others while assigning blame to themselves.

Andrea: Unhappy the land that has no heroes.
Galileo: No, unhappy the land that needs heroes.
– Bertolt Brecht. The Life of Galileo.

Leaders and managers in the creative industries and elsewhere can use Level 5 Leadership to improve the performance of their teams and enterprises.


David Parrish advises, trains and coaches on Leadership in the creative, digital and cultural industries.

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