Level 5 Leadership & Chapter 12 Extra Readings

Level 5 Leadership

Given my love for the “Good to Great, or Just Good” article from last week, it probably isn’t much of a surprise that I find some compelling flaws in the “Level 5 Leadership” ideology.  While the author, Jim Collins, makes some good points regarding leadership, I find the whole Level 5 Leadership contention somewhat arbitrary.

Level 5 leaders, according to the article, universally possess 2 identifiable yet unquantifiable character traits.  The traits described are personal humility and professional will.  Collins describes this combination as “paradoxical” apparently finding this to be an extremely rare combination.  Collins justification for this assertion is that the research which was performed for the Good to Great book was the same research which produced his “evidence” for Level 5 leadership.  Because the research team wasn’t looking to identify leadership traits, Collins asserts that these findings are empirical and not ideological.  However, just as in Good to Great, there was no hypothesis given or tested.  The research team looked at a small sampling of companies which met predefined standards and garnered conclusions based only on the sample group.  Even if the sample group were statistically significant (it’s far to small to be), lacking a hypothesis research cannot be identified as empirical.  Collins uses universal terms to describe the findings gleaned from a very small sampling of companies.  This is not empirical or scientific in anyone’s definition except Collins’. 

While I agree a great deal with some of the conclusions regarding good leadership, I find the level 1-5 rankings to be extremely arbitrary.  Collins group makes the rankings sound official and final when they cannot be.  The sampling was too small and their window was too short (15 years) to make a realistic assessment of great leadership.  That was all covered in the Good to Great write-up last week so I won’t rehash it. 

From my perspective the Level 5 Leadership approach is a guideline (not THE guideline) for finding good potential leaders, but I don’t at all agree with the combination requirements for the various levels.  For example, according to the research a Level 5 leader has to be shy and avoid the spotlight.  While I like that type of person better, I could go on for days pointing out great leaders that did not avoid the spotlight completely.  Shy is not necessarily a good leadership quality.  I would even say that being comfortable in the spotlight might be a requirement for a great leader.  Not that they need to bask in their own glory, but they should be capable of public speaking, and comfortable with public scrutiny. 

At any rate, I would take the Level 5 hierarchy and use some of the traits as guidelines for effective leadership, but I don’t at all agree with the “Good to Great” or “Level 5 Leadership” claims.  Great leaders can come from anywhere, and have any number of personality traits.  At some point I’ll blog on the book “Lincoln on Leadership” and paint a clearer picture of my view of leadership.  You can also look back to my post on “Leading by Example” (http://wp.me/p1iUI4-1k) to get a view of my priorities respective to being a leader.

Chapter 12 Extra Reading

“For Lt. Withers, Act of Mercy Has Unexpected Sequel” 

The Lt. Withers reading was quite sad.  I’m not sure why this was an assignment, but there was some nice lessons learned.  From the article I got the idea that doing the right thing is far more important than following orders or obeying rules.  While there can always be negative consequences when our morals supersede our leader’s rule set, it’s what we do in those situations that defines us as human beings.  Martin Luther King said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  While Lt. Withers understood the rules and reasons for the rules, in this particular situation he was bound by a higher set of rules.  These are the rules which define our humanity.  Sometimes the potential punishment is worth disobeying the rules to do what you feel is right.

“How a Marine Lost His Command In a Race To Baghdad”

The story of Colonel Dowdy has an ending quite the opposite of Lt Withers’ story.  Colonel Dowdy chose his men over a speedier rush to Baghdad, because the towns he had to go through to achieve speed would have resulted in a lot of dead marines.  I don’t really understand all the reasons for Colonel Dowdy’s firing.  However, many times as stupid as it is, perception is viewed as reality.  The bulldozer operator being caught reading a book rather than fixing the air strip and the Colonel being seen sleeping had to have played a large roll.  I don’t believe at all that perception is reality unless you’re either really arrogant or really stupid.  To assume you know what’s happening after only a cursory set of observances is absurd.  However, many people live right in the middle of this type of absurdity.  General Mattis is apparently one of them.  While he is the boss, and you have to listen to the boss, the whole tenant of the speed war was to let the officers lead.  Still I can’t believe that these are the only circumstances which resulted in the firing of General Dowdy.  At any rate, I stand behind him.  He did what he thought was best, and put the needs and lives of his people ahead of himself.  That is leadership you can stand behind.  It’s too bad he has to face consequences for doing what he believed is right.


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