Top Level Leadership


It didn’t matter who, what, when or where.  A Sunday afternoon Monopoly game with my brother and cousin.  A six-man flag football game at my three-room country school. The 50-yard dash in the state-wide Junior Olympics.  High-school basketball. Hiking to the top of an Oregon butte, a sand dune or a Pacific Ocean overlook. I love to get to the top of the mountain for the first view. I grew up with a love to win. 

Yet when it comes to leadership, it’s a bit counterintuitive. It’s more than hard-charging, elbow-throwing, ego-centric chiefs leading the charge.  To get to the pinnacle involves serving others, empowering those under you, giving away leadership, handing credit to the team, taking responsibility for failures, and demonstrating deep humility.  At least that’s what Jim Collins’ research team found in their study of the eleven “great” companies that stood head and shoulders above all the “good” companies (Good to Great).  Winning isn’t necessarily measured by the highest score, the largest salary, the corner office, perks and privileges, or how many people who serve you.

In my last blog, Level 5 Leadership, I shared a bit of my own leadership journey and my passion to become a Level 5 leader.  As a multi-decade student of leadership, I’ve been pursuing my quest for the top by the unique path of exploring, executing and experiencing a succession plan for the organization I started.  Here are a few things I’ve been learning about Level 5 Leadership.

1) It’s Not About Me But It Starts With Me.  You will never get there without intentionality. It starts by making room at the top for other potential high-capacity leaders. If you don’t create room, you will eventually lose up-and-coming talent.  And remember, it takes time to invest in your best leaders. They will make mistakes. Be okay with less than perfection. Develop a culture of leadership development. Make sure that those who work themselves out of a job will always have a job.

2) Remain Humble and Teachable.  Practice servant leadership. Pick up trash in the parking lot on the way to the office. Arrogance is destructive (Remember the 2007-2008 financial crisis and how arrogant, self-glorifying, self-obsessed leaders led their organizations to ruin?). Humility matters.  When the team has success, make sure the credit goes to them.  Conversely, take responsibility for your team’s efforts when things go wrong. Never forget you started at the bottom of the leadership pyramid.  Leaders are always learners. Read blogs and books. Listen to podcasts. Ask for help. Find others ahead of you to learn from. Get coaching.

 3) Develop Discipline. Level 5 leaders are disciplined—highly disciplined.  They stick to a course of action, no matter how difficult.  They don’t let naysayers dissuade them.  They have fierce resolve to finish well.  Don’t start believing your own press.  A lot of it is hype. It will distract you.  Level 5 leaders stay focused on the few responsibilities that only top leaders can do for their organization.

4) Plan Your Legacy. Know your mission (see 80thbirthday exercise).  Start doing whatever you must do to fulfill it.  Stay focused on your core strength all the way to the end.  Plan your succession and execute the plan before you feel you have to.  Decide today what you will be remembered for and live it tomorrow.  What you do daily, over time, becomes your legacy.

Level 5 leaders do whatever it takes to make the organization great.  These four above are a great start if you want to get to the top. But from so many angles, the way to the top is by going down.  It takes a steady strength to go against the natural grain because it is an upside down and counterintuitive journey.  Blessings to you as you choose Level 5 leadership.


QUESTION:  Which of the four is the easiest for you and which one is the most challenging for you? (Love to hear your thoughts below!)

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