Level 5 Leaders - Characteristics and Operating Style



Jim Collins, level 5 leaders, Kimberly-Clark, Darwin E. Smith, Sam Walton, Wal-Mart, Iacocca, Chrysler, George Cain

According to Jim Collins, all 'good to great' companies have level 5 leaders. The article explains the characteristics of such leaders and their operating styles.

During the period 1951 to 1971, Kimberly-Clark's1 stock fell 36% behind the general market. Darwin E. Smith (Smith) the in-house lawyer was appointed the CEO of the company in 1971. He seemed to be an ordinary man with mild manners. He was shy and unpretentious and sometimes awkward; he also disliked being in limelight. Some of the directors thought that he was a wrong choice for the post of a CEO. Even Smith himself was not sure whether the Board had taken the right decision in choosing him as the CEO. However, Smith continued as the CEO for the next twenty years and demonstrated an intense professional will. Under his leadership, Kimberly Clark became a leading consumer paper products company in the world. Smith turned Kimberly Clark from a merely good to a truly great company. According to Jim Collins2 Darwin E. Smith is a classic example of Level 5 leadership. He epitomized both humility and strong will.

Levels of Leadership

Jim Collins classified leaders into five levels. Level 1 leader is a highly capable individual. He plays an important role in the success of his organization through his own talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits. A Level 2 leader is a contributing team member. He is very good at working with his team members and ensures that his team meets its assigned objectives, and fulfills the core purpose. A Level 3 leader is a competent manager. He is skilled at organizing people and resources towards the effective and efficient pursuit of organizational objectives. A Level 4 leader is an effective leader. He sets high level performance standards. He is remarkable at motivating his people and leading them single -mindedly towards realizing his vision for the organization. A Level 5 leader transforms the organization into a great institution. He epitomizes personal humility and fierce professional will.

Level 5 Executive

According to Jim Collins, there are some significant differences between a level 4 leader and a level 5 leader. A level 5 leader is highly ambitious for the success of his company. He wants his company to succeed irrespective of his presence at the helm. For example, Sam Walton, a level 5 leader, had unique and charismatic personality. When he was suffering from cancer in 1992, everybody wondered what would happen to Wal-Mart once Sam Walton is gone. But Sam Walton wanted to prove that his company is bigger than himself. He wanted to show that the company would be equally successful even when a charismatic leader like him does not head it. He chose David Gloss, who was non-charismatic, to succeed him. The company continues to be great even after its founder is dead. On the other hand, a level 4 leader does not bother much about the greatness of the company once he is gone. Lee Iacocca, for example, can be considered a level 4 leader. A level 4 leader ensures high level performance during his reign, but hardly cares about the future performance of the organization in his absence. A level 4 leader is often more bothered about his greatness than his company's greatness.

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1] Its core business then was coated paper.
2] Author of "Good to Great" and Co-author, "Built to Last." Collins researched 1,435 companies to understand what makes a company "great". Of the 1,435 companies surveyed, only 11 qualified to be called great companies according to the criteria set by the research team. According to Collins all the eleven companies had Level 5 leaders.