Podcast EP 130 | Jim Collins Level 5 Leaders

What are Jim Collins Level 5 leaders?

Level 5 leadership is a concept developed in the book Good to Great. Level 5 leaders display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They’re incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves. While Level 5 leaders can come in many personality packages, they are often self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy.

This week we discuss what makes a level 5 leader, why level 5 leadership matters, and the challenge that comes with being a level 4 leader. Also we provide examples that we’ve seen where individuals and companies have successfully built level 5 leadership.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.

Kevin Lawrence  00:13

Hey, welcome to the growth whispers podcast where everything Brad Giles and Kevin Lawrence, that’s the two of us, everything we talked about is about building enduring great companies, because we get a kick out of that. And today, we’re gonna dig into a topic. That’s very interesting. And we’ll tell you more about that in just a second. But before we do, I support leadership and awesome leaders versus the ones who drive us crazy. And we’ve all had those bad bosses in our lives, who we just like, I never want to be like that. So this is the opposite of the bad bosses, but and more about that in a minute. But we always kind of got our, you know, something that’s on our mind. So like a word or a phrase of the day. And Brad, what is your word or your phrase?


Brad Giles  00:57

Hello, compounding. So compounding, I think it was Einstein said it’s the greatest force in the universe. And we’re using compounding every time we’re meeting, doing quarterly and annual off to sites, little tiny bits here and there that are compounding against and alongside each other to make overall things significantly better. So yeah, compounding has been on my mind of late, and how we use that in the work that we do.


Kevin Lawrence  01:25

Love that. Where he does build on it, and you build on it makes me think, because I’m working with a company that got a little off the rails. And we just had our second strat planning meeting last week. And like already, I saw an incredible amount of progress, more than you normally see. Now, they had to run the systems and tools in the past, they just kind of lost their way. But yeah, it compounds and it builds on itself, like a like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Awesome. Mine is retreat. And we’ve been doing planning for our team retreat, where we got a three day event for our team up in Whistler, we’re now up to get the number on always get the number wrong, but there’s around a dozen of us maybe even more. And we’re just going to spend a bunch of time coming together and creating our own version of compounding. But coming together time together to build relationships, share knowledge, and come away with an aligned focus of how we’re going to do better work for our clients. And it’s a lot of work planning these things. We do it for clients all the time, but we’re doing it for ourselves. It’s like it’s even more it seems. Usually we want to squeeze more out of it. I don’t know. Anyways, so compounding impact of retreats, good retreats for teams, bringing them together, coming away with better output. Awesome. So Brad, what did the heck are we going to talk about today? Today bad bosses. Boy, we could do such a great show on bad bosses. Oh, oh, we


Brad Giles  02:54

could do on a bad. Good bosses. Yeah, that’d be more fun. Yeah. All right. Well, yeah.


Kevin Lawrence  02:59

We’re more constructive, let’s say for sure.


Brad Giles  03:02

Yeah. So I think a few weeks ago, we saw Jim Collins speaking about his level five leaders concept. And that’s what’s prompted this episode is us reflecting on that thinking about some of our key takeaways. What it means, where it comes from, and how can you aspire or think to become more like a level five leader. So that’s really what we’re talking about today. So maybe we’ll kick off by saying what is a level five leader so this is from Jim’s website. Level five, leadership is a concept delivered in the book, Good to Great level five leaders display a powerful mixture of personal humility, and indomitable will. They’re incredibly ambitious, but they’re ambitious. It’s their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, and for the organization and its purpose, not themselves. While level five leaders can come in many personality packages, they’re often self effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy, even Good to Great Transition. Every part of me every good to great transition in our research began with a level five leader who motivated the enterprise more with inspired standards than inspiring personality. They were amazing humans.


Kevin Lawrence  04:20

Yeah, those are the best that’s as good as it gets as a leader. And that’s the ones that we obviously want to work for, we want to work with. And so really the challenge we’ll talk about today is that like, you know, for our teams, that the challenge is to identify and develop those level five leaders and they can be developed, they need development often to get there. And for ourselves, this is the aspiration to get to that level and stay there. Sometimes a bunch of success and that gets to our head and people can draw from Level Five farther down. And recently I did a conversation with a bunch of CEOs in your great country, Australians to our friends that yes, Australia. Thanks to our friends at the Growth Faculty, we had a conversation with a bunch of CEOs about their experience around level five leadership. And, you know, it was really a great conversation. And I can share some more with that later. But, you know, there was a question that came up of what indicators of level five are. And there’s lots. You know, when Jim talks about this, and we’ll talk about some of these things here, too. But one of the ones I recall, that’s, and I don’t remember whether it was Jim Collins or Liz Wiseman, I believe it was one of the two. Liz Wiseman has a book called multipliers, her first book, and she talks about multipliers versus diminishers multipliers multiply people’s intelligence and capability diminishers, bring it down. And it’s it’s in harmony with level five leadership, although different. But one of the one of the questions they said is that, you know, if you want to figure out, truly, if they’re in that kind of level five category, just ask them about their team, say, hey, you know, and you’re going back, and I have been in talk reading as well, I’m not sure. But go back when you’re, when you’re asking them about their previous roles, or their current role. Tell me about your team. Well, you know, in Liz’s language, if they’re a multiplier in gyms, if they’re a level five leader, they’re going to go off and tell you how amazing their team is, like they’re bragging about their grandchildren, they’re gonna tell you all the great stuff and who and why and how, and by the way, they’re gonna have left a trail of amazing leaders who went on to do great things. And if they’re not, there, very quickly, within a very few seconds, you’re gonna bring the conversation back to me, me, me, because that’s their favourite topic, they’re gonna bring it back to talking about themselves very quickly, because they don’t really care about the team, they care about themselves. And it’s not about the cause. It’s about themselves. So it’s, it’s, it’s an indicator of really, a person’s focus on whether it’s helping to grow and develop others, or for their own benefit.


Brad Giles  07:10

I love the distinction between a level four leader and a level five leader, and that is, Jim calls it the genius with 1000 helpers. And it’s a trap that so many people can so easily fall into. All of the answers are coming from the leader. And, and the people are there to help. And really what’s happening is, the leader is is preventing the organization from truly becoming great, because all everything’s stopping with them. So the transition from level four to level five, is about saying, I want to build a business that’s bigger than myself, that will endure myself and I am responsible, Jim’s got this concept that helps to clarify that, which is are you looking in the mirror? Or are you looking in out the window? Yes. So if there was a problem, level five leaders would look in the mirror and say I was responsible. If there was success, they would look out the window and say, Ah, the team has been successful. This is fantastic. It’s all on them, they’ve done a great job. And that speaks to that humility that we’re talking about. Yeah. And so


Kevin Lawrence  08:27

These level five leaders have this incredible combination of will incredible drive to do hard things well and be successful, successful organization, and humility, that it’s not all about them. And they’re the opposite of what you see in the movies in the CD CEOs or leaders and movies. They’re not arrogant. They’re humble down to earth. And I think about this one client that I have here in Canada, and we were in a social gathering recently. And you know, he introduced himself, it was just a carpenter. And that’s his, and his demeanor is like, he has a carpenter, he is incredibly successful. You’d never know it. He’s focused on building a great organization, building opportunities for people and having an impact on his community. He’s like, he doesn’t, he doesn’t, he’s not doing it for the money. He’s doing it to do something great in the world and to leave a legacy. So it’s interesting on this, you know, recently I met what I believe is a level five exec had a conversation with him. And, you know, we, we were having a chat about leadership, and he’s going off about, you know, just give me a really driven leader in her early 30s, who’s really trying to do great stuff. And I just love to help groom them and shape them and prove them and help them to become more effective. Leaders like that’s yeah, he’s talking about this with joy. He’s done very well in the past. And he’s rejoined a business because he loves it. And he’s just lit up by it. But what’s interesting is that, you know, so he’s driven by this helping other people to thrive in his senior leadership role. He has been CEOs of organizations and such. But then, you know, at one point, when a meeting because it was his first meeting, he pulls me aside and asked me for feedback. Hey, how am I doing? How can I do better? I’m like, so I give him a couple ideas. Yeah, I was thinking about that. I was wondering, but Okay, cool. And then, you know, later that night, we’re going out, and I just observed something that he did. And were, you know, having a chat. I said, Hey, can I give you another little piece of feedback? Yeah, sure. Please tell me. And I said, Hey, you know, in the situation, when such and such happened, and you did such and such, you inadvertently, were disrespectful to somebody might go, Yeah, I think I go well, I think he made a comment as well, hey, if you noticed, they noticed because they were on the receiving end, he goes, Hey, give me a couple of minutes. He stops our conversation, grabs his phone, and communicates with the person to apologize and clean it up, like within seconds. So this is not a junior executive, this is a very senior executive. So thriving, and loving, developing leaders telling me about a bunch of he’d developed, asking for feedback, acting on the feedback, given extra feedback, going and cleaning it up immediately. I mean, that’s, that’s the kind of people you want to be with. Yeah, that’s the kind of people who make great things and pull the best out of you. So the level five leaders are absolutely amazing. I’ll share one more thing, Brian, and then you know, Brad, you got some more shirts here. But, you know, I, I was chatting with another CEO. And we had a breakfast meeting. And you know, this guy’s built and sold quite a few businesses. And we’re having this chat, and we got talking about activities, you know, I was talking to about how I like, you know, racing in motorsports because it challenges me was, that’s why I like golf. because I spent so much money trying to get good at golf. And I’m still mediocre. And I try practice, I play a lot. I practice a lot. And I can’t seem to get good because you know what I realized it was comedy. And I realized, it’s great for me, it keeps me humble. Right, because there’s people that can go and do things that they’re only good at all the time to go and do something and suck at it. It’s very humbling and allows you to have the beginner’s mind and compassion and understanding for other people that are in that place. And we’ve said that, so golf is his, one of his mechanisms for humility.


Brad Giles  12:49

It’s a trap. We’re all human. It’s a trap that anyone can fall into, we can look at people and say, Oh, that person isn’t humble, like they’ve been categorized. But I love the fact that this guy is trying to get himself to stay humble. Like it’s so important. One of the one of the stories that Jim Collins told was just fantastic. It I’d say it was a company called trek bicycles. Now, I spoke to another leader that I work with now, and he had said that he just bought a trek bicycle for 14,000 euros, a quite an expensive push bike, right? But so they do high end, good quality, right? Endurance, bicycles, trek bicycles, Waterloo, Wisconsin, John Burke is the president there. And he’d explained to Jim that they have 450 leaders in track bicycles, and 42 of them are level five. And then he said, there’s a lot of work to do. So they’ve built a level five University at track bicycles, how to get people and they measure them, they know where people are. And every leader in the organization, they’re trying to build the largest group of level five leaders on the planet. And I gotta tell you, you go to the trek bicycles website and look up their culture book. This thing is phenomenal. It’s about 270 pages of culture book, and it tells exactly who they are, what they value, everything. How could it possibly be 270 pages? I don’t know. But I gotta tell her, this is the best culture book I’ve ever seen in my life. And that is because they’re dedicated to building enduring and endearing right business. And they focused on this concept of level five leaders.


Kevin Lawrence  14:54

Yeah, another example like that as Patagonia. They’re known for being very different than their approach. But the founder of Patagonia just gave the business away. Right. And he and he wasn’t he was interested in building an amazing company, I’m sure and I don’t know him personally. But I’m sure there’s a lot of humility and will to build that kind of organization. And at the end, just give it away because he’s not interested in in the wealth and everything else. So let’s, let’s talk about the thing that by the way, if you want more on there’s an episode 49, how to become a level five leader, an earlier podcast we did. Also, there’s a bunch of both Brad’s in my books in my book, in particular, Chapter Six deal with your emotional junk, that’s what gets in the way of a lot of level five leaders, is they have internal stuff that doesn’t allow them to be humble and stay in their best place, getting tough feedback, chapter nine, and then make yourself useless, which is the ultimate accomplishment of any leader is building an incredible team that doesn’t need you as chapter 10. And Brian, your book overall covers this kind of stuff. So


Brad Giles  16:01

your book is called your oxygen mask first, right? And my book is, Yeah, gotta know what


Kevin Lawrence  16:08

it’s made and made to thrive is Brad’s Yes.


Brad Giles  16:10

Good, good, good call. So


Kevin Lawrence  16:13

a couple of principles. And we’re just gonna cover this at a high level. But, you know, there’s a two pieces, your will and humility and will, and they, they level five leaders have both and really, Will is like the internal motor and tie inside of a person. And based on people’s experiences throughout their life in their childhood, and everything else. Some people got a big motor, and some don’t. And at the end of the day, our job as leaders is to look for the people with the motor, try and create lots of different pathways for people to find their motor, because sometimes they gotta find it, you know, looking for what people are excited about, and what fires them up, but you’re looking for people that have that will. And I don’t know how it’s created. I do know that it’s obvious when people have it. And generally, if I look, I look at the CEOs that I get the chance to work with the executives I get a chance to work with, there’s patterns at a fairly young age that start to emerge, and they continue on that motor is, is that motor is there at some point it gets built. And so the main thing is just like with athletes, you can’t motivate a person to do this. And if you have to motivate people, that’s not fun for you or them, the thing we got to look for, so we look for the mortar, and just be careful, we don’t kill it. Right, the wrong leader can kill the motor and kill the motivation. And I’m sure there’s some other research there on how you could create it. But in the businesses that we’re in, we’re not in the motivation, creating business, we’re looking for people that already have that internal drive.


Brad Giles  17:53

I think one thing that’s important is what Jim Collins said is that great leaders aren’t born. Okay, that that rocked the lead, it’s a really important distinction that you have the ability to follow the bouncing ball over many, many years. And to get to this level five. Point. Yes, it was there’s one leader in particular that I worked with, who will remain nameless, many years ago, he was quite brash, quite arrogant, wanted to build a great company for sure he had the will. But we’ve tempered that, I would say, I would say consciously, he might say subconsciously, if he acknowledged it over time. And yeah, he’s, he’s now a lot more disciplined in his thinking and thinking more about the business in an endearing manner, and is a lot more humble in his approach to people broadly. So I think that yeah, I think it’s important to note, it’s not an easy job that you can do this,


Kevin Lawrence  19:01

just like that executive, I talked about the loves to take those driven 30 year old executives and groom them, I would say myself, I have worked a lot on on rounding off the corners, we’ll call it over the years, and I’ve learned basically, I’ve always had the will. It’s the humility, I had the drive, but there would always be a little too much carnage in a way I’d be more likely to get in arguments more likely to want to stand my ground. And just learning more skills and a lot of it’s tied into it’s just, it’s generally leadership skills and management skills that you can learn and there’s an element of humility in it and there’s an element of just chilling out for people like me in particular and lots of I work with Yeah, but but jelly. The wheel was already there. You can work on the other things and most people that have the will can learn to be highly effective leaders. Just work. Yeah. So let’s get again, just so we don’t get too long. We got another few minutes or we’ll cover off the highlights but I want to cover off humility a little bit. And the idea is that like, humility is basically the opposite of arrogance, arrogance, people are trying to overcompensate generally for the weaknesses. And I pulled this off a dictionary definition, exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate. Or one owns worth, or importance by an overbearing manner. Basically, you’re exaggerating stuff and you’re just trying hard to make yourself seem bigger, better than you might be or bigger or better than other people. We’re humility. Generally, people are very comfortable with themselves. They’re very confident. They’re confident with their, you know, confidence is defined as self assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities. And humility is not proud, or haughty, or not arrogant or assertive.


Brad Giles  21:01

I don’t know what that that haughty word. I don’t even know how that


Kevin Lawrence  21:05

I either did it but I looked it up. Thanks. Adi hottie religiously and disdainfully proud, having or showing an attitude of superiority and contempt for people or things perceived to be inferior. You know, one of my tests for humility, and if someone is really is how they treat people with notably less power, I absolutely judge people in normal interactions, how they treat waiters, servers, sorry people like even the bus people clearing tables, maids, people, no taxi, cab drivers, janitors, how they treat people have less power. And one of my most one of my clients who probably I learned the most from, and he might not even know it is an incredibly, incredibly successful entrepreneur. And I just remember one day the respect he showed someone a few might be one of the most powerful men where he is one of the least powerful person he saw in a situation that wasn’t right. And he stepped in and did something about it. He didn’t know this person, nothing, it had nothing to do with any of his businesses, another place he and I were going, and he stopped and did something and basically gave this guy a bottle of water, who was standing in incredible heat without an umbrella, you know, almost 50 degrees. And he stopped, gave got went back to his car, got a bottle of water out of his cooler, because he had a cooler in his car to keep things cold, and gave it to the guy and say it’s not right that you don’t have an unbelieving, but that’s me. So humility is this, this this, but we’re not just talking humility, like I’m thinking you’re no good. There’s this confidence that goes with it. But humility is, you know, the is there’s a confidence and the knowing of your strengths and your weaknesses, and then wanting obviously to be better. And that’s critical. So it’s, you know, there’s, there’s, there’s confidence in there, but it’s quiet confidence.


Brad Giles  23:15

Yeah. So I’ve always saying is, it’s this mix of will like this indomitable this drive and will like, Absolutely, no matter what must build a great enduring company that is bigger than myself. And then it’s this humbleness. It’s this, this other side, which is, it’s, then they’re humble about it. It’s just this great mix between the two. That is,


Kevin Lawrence  23:43

it’s a beautiful thing to watch. So a couple a couple of key things that you just noticed with them. One, they’ve, they they’ve got, they allow people in that respect people around them to tell them to truth. Andy Grove calls them Cassandra’s. They challenge their thinking. They genuinely want feedback in whatever way is comfortable for them. Right? They might not blatantly ask for it. But they’re always looking for it in different ways of how they could be better. And you notice because when you have ideas, they listen, they might not do it, but they’re there. They’re there. They’re taking it in. They’re absolutely learners and Collins found this in his research. They are avid learners. They’re reading books, taking courses, talking to more experienced people. And even thinking about how things can be better like after action reviews in their mind.


Brad Giles  24:40

There’s a sign that not all sorry, Kev, there’s a saying about that. Not all lead. Not all learners are leaders, but all leaders are learners.


Kevin Lawrence  24:50

Exactly. I love that. And they generally get coaching mentoring even will go and see a psychologist When they need to they they work with other people to help them be better than not doing it alone. So let’s basic stuff that we I just share a couple exercises that I’m that that can help with this with your teams now it’s how do you bring it to life like you can identify it. But, you know, Dean Ritchie, who was the first advisor who joined my team, almost seven years ago, awesome, awesome coach, facilitator, advisor, mentor, he just with our team tonight and our team meeting shared an awesome exercise for Level Five leadership. And he basically, basically is you you look at competencies and whether you’re assessing yourself or somewhere else, but you look at specific competencies, that related to arrogance versus humility. And with those to try and seeing get a sense of where you are, somebody is by by evaluating as he has a column of different numbers that he built out around arrogance and humility. And he has the same one around lazier when he you know, he was unmotivated and will write or uninspired or unmotivated and will so arrogance, humility, unmotivated will, and just to try and get a sense of where you are, someone else is on that. It’s a simple, beautiful way to get deeper on it, because there’s certain things that are related to all those factors. The other thing he said is, he creates a little assessment he does with teams, sometimes to get them to rate each other on aspects of humility, and aspects of wills. So they can see where they stand almost like a little mini 360 based on us, just simple things, because it’s about the awareness and the conversation, and looking for where you can grow the other one. And I’ll just share real quick as I you know, this conversation with the CEOs in Australia. We asked them, it was real simple. Like, what are three things you do that make you more of a level five leader and pull you up to level five? And what are the three things that pull you down? And then think about someone else on your team? And what’s the same for them? So it’s not rocket, it’s just it’s spending time thinking about this and acknowledging level fives as good as it gets, we all probably have things we need to do I know I do to get to that level, and awareness of what it looks like so that we can surround ourselves with more awesome people like that.


Brad Giles  27:27

Like track, like track 450 liters, for 42 of them, pardon me, for it. 450 liters, 42 of them a level five, there’s a lot of work to do. That is just cow I love it. This is gold. What a good chat about level five leaders today. If you’re a genius with 1000 helpers, or a level five and level four, there’s some work to do and it is worth the push to get to that level five level. So good chat, Kev. Hopefully we’ve all learned a bit today got some different perspectives. This has been the growth whispers podcast. My name is Brad Giles. And my co host here is Kevin Lawrence. You can find Kevin and his interesting newsletter at Lawrence and co.com. And myself, Brad Giles, evolution partners.com.au. We also have a newsletter that we put out each week as well. You can find us on video at YouTube if you prefer to see our smiling faces. And yeah, obviously we would love to have you join us next week for another interesting chat about how to build enduring great companies. Do have yourself a great week.