HBR: Level 5 Leadership

This is a fascinating article in Harvard Business Review authored by Jim Collins. Just after reading the case, I was thinking of the CEOs who left the banks with millions of dollars as their “termination package” while those banks were on the verge of collapse or collapsed in the recent economic meltdown. Hopefully somebody will write about them in a couple of decades titling, say, Level 0 leadership.

The legacy of Darwin Smith, the CEO of Kimberly-Clark, is extraordinary. He did not even show his ego after a director pulled him out and said that he lacked some qualifications. He quoted that he never stopped trying to become qualified for the job. Probably his intense search of leadership made him a legendary. Colman Mockler, who rescued the Gillette, is another Level 5 leader. It is so painful to know that he died on his office floor due to heart attack just minutes after seeing his public appearance. It is unfortunate that he did not survive to see the company he built to the top.

Al Dunlap, the CEO of Scott Paper resembles the many CEO of today’s businesses. He made $100 million for his 603 workdays. He achieved this by slashing workforce, cutting research and development etc. There was an article in the recent local news paper about the earnings of people in the United States in the last couple of years. People who made more than $50 million rose five folded from 2008 to 2009 while people in all other income levels lost their earnings in 2009 compare to 2008 (http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/taxes/top-us-incomes-grew-five-fold-in-2009-to-a-519-million-average/19688820/). I think there are too many Dunlaps exist today. The funny part is that Dunlap wrote an autobiography boasting himself. Lee Lacocca, who saved Chrysler from the bankruptcy, lost his leadership qualities when he gains fame. That resulted with 31% drop in stock during his second half of tenure.

I was not surprised that the Level 5 leaders don’t even claim their achievements. They feel luck is a main reason in their success. There are not many Level 5 leaders because those leaders don’t express themselves as great personalities. That may be the reason that those leaders are unable to come to the top. Usually people with “lip service” are able to sell themselves more at the interviews and able to convince the hiring authorities.

In my personal experience I had a few good bosses and a nasty one in my work. They all are midlevel managers in the organizations. I feel all those good managers had Level 5 leadership qualities. They showed humility and had strong professional will. Also they were very supportive of their employees’ professional and personal growth and well-being. I had a great pleasure working with them.

I am wondering how the Level 5 leaders balanced their career with personal/family life. This article did not go into the personal life of the leaders.


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