Are you a level 5 leader?

There is an exclusive leadership club that not everyone can join, but it’s not the usual group you might think of when you hear the term! Are you level 5?


Following on from last week’s blog about different shades of courage in leadership, this week I want to explore a different view of leadership found in the twin principles of humility and will.


For anyone who has read Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, you will recognise these as the foundation of what he calls level 5 leadership, and in my experience it is not just Jim’s theory, but a truth about leadership that will stand the test of time.


“You can accomplish anything in life, provided you do not mind who gets the credit.”  Harry S Truman


So often we think of great leaders as “fill the room with their presence” types who can get people to follow them anywhere. The well-known names of leaders in this mould are imprinted in hundreds of books on leadership. But I am not talking about those leaders today because there is another less well-known family of leaders who deserve attention.


So what is a level 5 leader?


First and foremost these leaders share the dual traits I already mentioned – humility and will. Level 5 leaders are “modest and willful, humble and fearless.” But beyond this duality there are other traits that mark these leaders.

  • They are ambitious for the success of the organisation they lead, ahead of their own personal ambitions, and further they ensure the future and continued success by their commitment to strong successors.
  • They are modest, avoiding the limelight and always highlighting the contributions of others and the company as a whole.
  • They are commited to doing what must be done no matter what and showing a strong and unwavering resolve in the face of opposition. They are driven to achieve results.
  • They are willing to acknowledge the contributions of others when attributing success, but are also willing to wear the responsibility of failure.


Business literature is full of checklist leadership telling us that if we just do these three things, follow these 101 rules etc, we can be better leaders. But level 5 leadership is not for everyone. Whether we are too tied to our own personal ambitions, find it impossible to step aside and let others take credit, or any number of other traits that keep us anchored in level 1, 2, 3 or 4, some of us just don’t have what it takes to take that step up the ladder to level 5. We can however all benefit from trying to make the climb.


  • >Find out more about level 5 leadership.
  • > Read the classic Harvard Business article.
  • > Explore other Jim Collins articles on leadership


See you next week!



Alignment is Michel’s passion. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia, and Brand Alignment Group in the United States, she helps organisations align who they are, with what they do and say to build more authentic and sustainable brands.

For more Cultural Leadership blogs, click here.



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