Bob Calkin asked:
In his book “Good to Great” Jim Collins headed a research team to look at what drives average organizations to take a great leap and become great. The research concluded that a crucial component of greatness is a group of leaders with a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. These leaders who Collins describes as Level 5 leaders channel their ambition away from themselves into the larger goal of building a great company. All of the companies in the study that went from good to great had Level 5 leadership in key positions, including the CEO, at the pivotal time of transition.”
However, Collins couldn’t answer a critical question; how to develop Level 5 leadership?
“I would love to be able to give you a list of steps for becoming Level 5 but we have no solid research data that would support a credible list”
The inner development of a person remains a “black box”. In this article we will attempt to suggest ways that you can unlock the black box of great leadership. Our key is a set of capacities that we call awareness and communication capacities.
Collins’ Five Level Leadership Hierarchy
Level 5 – Level 5 executive
Builds enduring greatness through paradoxical
combination of personal humility plus professional will
Level 4 – Effective Leader
Catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of clear
and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high
Level 3 – Competent manager
Organizes people and resources towards effective and
efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives
Level 2 – Contributing team member
Contributes to the achievement of group objectives;
works effectively with others in a group setting
Level 1 – Highly capable individual
Makes productive contribution through talent knowledge,
skills and good work habits
Each higher level builds on the lower level so that the Level 5 leader incorporates all five levels. A Level 4 leader incorporates all level apart form Level 5 and so on.
Collins’ model is a fine first look at leadership and this model can be significantly improved by locating it within an integral approach. You can learn about the integral approach by clicking here. In what follows we assume that you will be familiar with the terminology of the integral approach.
An effective leadership formation program needs to be able to help people form the awareness and communication capacities that are the key to reaching Level 5 of Collins’ model.
In addition to each of the companies having Level 5 leadership at the crucial times there were a series of steps the leadership of the Good to Great companies implemented.
Getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus
The first step these companies took was to hire the right people. Collins talks about this as getting the right people onto the bus and the wrong people off the bus, or alternatively re-positioning someone to a place within the organization that suited their talent. Once the leadership had the right people on board and in the right positions they set about deciding about their future direction.
Confronting the brutal facts, (but never lose faith) < Each of the Good to Great companies faced up to the brutal facts they confronted. In order to achieve this critical step three awareness capacities are critical. These three awareness capacities are: 1. Treating everything that arises as an opportunity to learn; 2. Accepting unconditional responsibility for the choices made; 3. Achieving emotional mastery; Treating everything that arises as an opportunity to learn is about accepting the provisional nature of all of our beliefs and being ready, in the face of a better argument, to modify and change our views. This is not something that many people find easy to do, who, when their view is challenged experience it as a threat and will defend their point of view “to the death. A striking feature of Level 5 leaders was their willingness to accept full responsibility for any mistakes they made and to use the experience as an occasion to learn. Level 5 leaders at the same time were quick to attribute success to luck or to the exceptional capacities of the people involved rather than massaging their own egos. The Good to Great companies also never lost sight of faith in their capacity to find a way forward. This is about the healthy management of emotions and feelings. People who can manage their emotions are able to distinguish between the feelings of the emotion and honour those feelings, but at the same time recognise the reasons that lie behind the feelings. They are then able to take steps, by using the energy of the emotion, to deal with the reasons. They use their emotions as reliable indicators of the steps they must take. It’s part of facing the brutal facts. The hedgehog concept (Simplicity within three circles)
The hedgehog concept is an intriguing title for one of the steps in moving from Good to Great. Collins draws upon a parable created by Isaiah Berlin who contrasted the hedgehog and the fox. The hedgehog had a simple strategy and tactic to stay safe, while the fox had all the cunning and guile in the world, but the fox could not outwit the hedgehog. Collins makes the point that all the Good to Great companies were hedgehogs. They all developed a ‘hedgehog concept” that formed the basis of their business plan.
The hedgehog concept is made up of three circles:
1. Understanding what they could best in the world at doing?
2. What is the driver of their economic machine?
3. Do all the people in the organization have passion for what they do?
The hedgehog concept emerges at the intersection of these three circles.
In integral terms understanding what they could be best at, and appreciating the importance of the economic driver are properties of the Lower Right quadrant. Even though this is an easy concept to understand it took each of the Good to Great companies a long time and much soul searching to develop their hedgehog concept.
The issue of passion is a property of the Upper left quadrant and is a reflection of the people in the organization being aligned with the vision and objectives of the hedgehog concept. Articulating the vision associated with the hedgehog concept is very much a task for leadership.
A culture of discipline
A pre-condition for moving from Good to Great is having an integral mode of communication. An integral mode of communication presupposes a culture of discipline, and a culture of discipline depends upon the consent of the people within the organization. It’s not something that can be imposed from on high. A culture of discipline depends upon the formation among the people in the organization of the awareness and communication capacities that we have already mentioned.
The importance of a culture of discipline means that people do not need to be managed. This recognizes the reality of the modern business regime that depends upon knowledge work. All knowledge work involves a residual space within the systems and processes of Lower Right quadrant where the workers must exercise their own judgement and discretion. This requires a disciplined approach and one that recognises the broader aims and objectives of the organization consistent with the hedgehog concept.
Jim Collins makes the point that technology can accelerate progress but it can never
on its own be the basis of moving from Good to Great. Organizations need the discipline to evaluate technologies in terms of whether the technology can enhance the hedgehog concept. In many cases the judicious use of technology helped the Good the Great companies to be the best in the world at what they did.
Jim Collins makes the point that viewed from the outside the Good to Great companies appear to suddenly take off. Closer examination reveals that there is a relatively long transition period where the foundations are laid for phenomenal growth and take off. A great deal of work goes on in the take off period requiring discipline and facing the facts balanced by having the faith that ultimately success would follow.
The organization’s vision
Prior to the Good to Great project Jim Collins collaborated with Jerry I Porras in researching and writing “Built to Last”. This project dealt with the qualities required to build an enduring great company. After the completion of the research for “Good to Great”, Collins saw “Good to Great” as a prequel to “Built to Last”. All the Built to Last companies had been through a Good the Great build-up and breakthrough.
To make the shift from a company with sustained great results to an enduring company Collins recommends applying the central concepts of “Built to Last”. This is to discover the organization’s vision for the future consisting of core values and purpose beyond just making money, what he calls the core ideology, and combine this with the dynamic of “preserve the core/stimulate progress.
In addition Collins argues that a central point of Built to Last was to develop what he calls a good BHAG. This is an abbreviation for Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Therefore building a vision involves:
1.Discovering your purpose for existence as an organization beyond just making money;
2.Discovering your core values;
3.Working out a good BHAG with a time frame of 10 to 15 years;
These tasks are pre-eminent leadership tasks and any credible leadership formation program needs to be able to help leaders work through these three steps. The leaderships’ tasks is to the articulate the vision and align that vision with the aspirations and hopes of the people within the organization.
Finally Collins asks the question Why Greatness? He offers two reasons:
First it is in fact easier to seek greatness using the tools provided than trying to manage mediocrity. Managing mediocrity involves a great many hassles and takes a great deal of energy. Forming the conditions for excellence takes less energy and generates positive reinforcing momentum.
Secondly if your people are doing something they care about (if the people in the organization have passion for what they are doing, a component of the Hedgehog concept) then they are going to want to excel at what they are doing.
All of the qualities required for a leadership formation program are contained within the CMI leadership formation program that you can learn more about by visiting our site.