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By Denis G.

6 minutes

Level 5 Leadership

Level 5 Leadership is a concept developed by Jim Collins in his classic business book, Good to Great.

To write Good to Great, 1,435 companies were analyzed over a 40 year period. The aim of this analysis was to find companies that had been good for a long time but had then transformed into great companies. Specifically, he was looking for a sustained period of greatness.

From the 1,435 companies, just eleven were found that had gone from good to great. The question the book tries to answer is what made these eleven companies successful?

Good to Great

The book Good to Great is an absolute classic business book, covering many more topics than just Level 5 Leadership. If you’d like to learn more about the book you can read our detailed summary of it here.

Level 5 Leadership

In every Good to Great company that Collins studied, he found that they all had the same type of leader. He named this type of leadership Level 5 Leadership.

The concept is so fundamental to transforming a company from good to great that it is the first concept introduced in the book.

Level 5 Leadership

Let’s examine each level of leadership, starting with the lowest level of leadership, the Highly Capable Individual.

Level 1 Leadership: Highly Capable Individual

If you think about an organizational hierarchy, the lowest level of leadership is the Highly Capable Individual. These are people who contribute using their skills, know-how and good work habits.

They are good at what they do and they contribute by doing a good job.

Level 2 Leadership: Contributing Team Member

The next level of leadership is Contributing Team Member. These are people who are able to use their skills and knowledge to help their team succeed.

They are good at what they do and also contribute to the success of the team.

Level 3 Leadership: Competent Manager

The third level of leadership is Competent Manager. These are managers capable of organizing their team to efficiently reach pre-determined objectives.

They contribute to the success of the organization by driving their team hard, but they do not determine the team’s objectives.

Level 4 Leadership: Effective Leader

The penultimate level of leadership is Effective Leader. This is the level at which the majority of leaders can be found.

They are able to create a commitment to pursue a clear and compelling vision. They’re also able to create a high-performing team.

They contribute by inspiring their team so that the team wants to achieve their vision of the future.

Level 5 Leadership: Great Leader

Finally, we reach Level 5 Leadership. These are the truly great leaders.

Note that you don’t need to move sequentially through the other four levels to become a Level 5 Leader. Level 5 Leaders have the abilities of the other four levels plus a unique combination of being strong-willed yet humble. It is this combination of will and humility that makes them great. It also sets them apart from all the other levels of leadership.

Leaders in the other four levels can produce success, but not enough for sustained organizational greatness. Remember that all the companies Collins found that went from good to great had this type of leader. Companies didn’t go from good to great without this type of leader.

What defines a Level 5 Leader and sets them apart are the following behaviors:

  • Paradox or duality: They are ambitious, but this ambition is for the organization to excel rather than themselves. Despite their ambition, they are modest about what they personally contribute. There are also self-effacing. This is countercultural. In modern culture, we think of great leaders as being larger than life personalities such as Richard Branson and Elon Musk.
  • Driven: They are fanatically driven to produce exceptional results on a sustainable basis. The key word here is sustainable. There drive isn’t short-lived, and neither are the results they seek.
  • Build successors: They build successors to be even more successful than they are. This is in stark contrast to level 4 leaders who will sometimes set up their successors for failure to make themselves look good.
  • Share praise: They share the praise amongst the team when things go well.
  • Take blame: They are happy to take the blame when things go wrong. By sharing the praise and taking the blame they make their team extremely loyal and committed to them.
  • Normal people: They never have larger than life personalities nor are they celebrities.
  • Come from within the organization: They tend to come from within the organization because their greatness comes from quiet hard-work, rather than one-off acts of heroism.

Level 5 Leadership Definition

As succinctly as we can, we can give the definition of Level 5 Leadership as being a highly capable individual + a contributing team member + a competent manager + an effective leader + a strong will + humility.

How to Become a Level 5 Leader

To become a Level 5 Leader you need to develop your professional skills and your emotional intelligence. Following these steps will help you:

1. Develop your humility

It’s good to be ambitious. But it’s better to be ambitious yet humble.

Tools which can help you understand the importance of humility include:

  • Referent power: can help you to develop power without force or formal authority.
  • Emotional intelligence: developing your emotional intelligence can make you a more well-rounded leader.

2. Develop Loyal Followers

Level 5 Leaders have followers who are committed and deeply loyal. To develop team loyalty you can:

  • Take responsibility: When things don’t go to plan look in the mirror and take the blame yourself. Level 5 Leaders never blame others when things don’t go to plan.
  • Use reward power: When things go to plan, deflect attention from yourself and give the praise to your team. Reward power is a tool which can help you do this in a way that motivates your entire team.

3. Recruit from Within

Level 5 Leaders recruit from within. It’s difficult to find Level 5 Leaders from outside the organization – they tend to be Level 4 Leaders – people who shout about their own successes. Level 5 Leaders typically reach their position through quiet, hard work.

4. Develop your Drive

Level 5 Leaders are exceptionally driven to achieve results.

Setting clear yet challenging and exciting goals can help develop your drive.

As part of this, they hold themselves and others to very high standards. They follow the adage of hire slow and fire fast. If they have a problem team member they will act quickly to rectify the problem even if this means moving the team member on.

5. Lead with Passion

Level 5 Leaders lead with passion. To develop your passion make sure you have a clear and compelling vision for where you want your team to go.


Level 5 Leadership is a term introduced by Jim Collins in the book Good to Great. Level 5 Leaders have two characteristics that set them apart from other types of leader. The two characteristics are those of being strong-willed yet humble.

These two characteristics might seem in contradiction to each other but they are not. Willpower allows Level 5 Leaders to push for consistent success. The success they aim for is the organization’s success and not their own. Because of this, it allows them to be humble about their own abilities and achievements.

Cite this article

Minute Tools Content Team, Level 5 Leadership, Minute Tools, May, 2018,
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Denis G.

Originally hailing from Dublin, Denis has always been interested in all things business and started EPM in 2009. Before EPM, Denis held a leadership position at Nokia, owned a sports statistics business, and was a member of the PMI's (Project Management Institute’s) Global Executive Council for two years. Denis now spends his days helping others understand complex business topics.

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