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Jim Collin’s five levels of leadership

Individuals who wish to become good leaders must work on developing these skills and characteristics to become a Level 5 Leader.

By Vidya Hattangadi

“Level 5” refers to the highest level in a hierarchy of executive capabilities that we identify with. Leaders at the other four levels in the hierarchy can produce high degrees of success, but not enough to elevate companies from mediocrity to sustained excellence.

Jim Collins is an American researcher, author, speaker and consultant focused on the subject of business management and company sustainability and growth. Companies that seek an enduring presence in the marketplace require extraordinary individuals to lead the way. Executives and managers who capably drive organizational success, researcher Jim Collins calls them as “Level 5” leaders. They represent a unique combination of executive capabilities, something that allows them to ensure their organizations become the best at what they do.

Individuals who wish to become good leaders must work on developing these skills and characteristics to become a Level 5 Leader: develop humility, ask for help, take responsibility, develop discipline, find the right people and lead with passion.

Collins’s discovery is based on a hierarchy of capabilities and traits discovered during his study.

Level 1: Position: This is the lowest level of leadership, which is at the entry level. People who make it only to Level 1 may be bosses, but they are never leaders. They have subordinates, not team members. They rely on rules, regulations, policies, and organisation charts to control their people.

Level 2: Permission: Making the shift from Position to Permission brings a person’s first real step into leadership. Leadership is about influencing, and when a leader learns to function on the permission level, everything changes. People do more than merely comply with orders. They actually start to follow. And they do so because they really want to. Why? Because the leader begins to influence people with relationship, not just position. When people feel liked, cared for, included, valued, and trusted, they begin to work together with their leader and each other. And that can change the entire working environment. The old saying is really true ‘people go along with leaders they get along with’.

Level 3: Production: Production qualifies and separates true leaders from people who merely occupy leadership positions. Good leaders always make things happen. They believe in results. They make a significant impact on an organisation. Not only are they productive individually, but they also are able to help the team attain goals. No one can fake the Level 3. Either the leader is producing results for the organisation and adding to its bottom line or is failing to do so. Some people never move up from Level 2 Permission to Level 3 Production. Why? They are incapable of producing results. When that is the case, it is usually because they lack the self-discipline, work ethics, organisation, or skills to be productive. However, if one desires to go to higher levels of leadership, he/she must simply learn to produce. There is no other way around it.

Level 4: People Development: Good leaders at Level 4 invest their time, energy, money, and thinking into growing others as leaders. How does this emphasis on people and people decisions translate into action? Leaders on the People Development level of leadership shift their focus from the production achieved by others to the development of their potential. And they put only 20% of their focus on their personal productivity while putting 80% of it on developing and leading others. This can be a difficult shift for highly productive people who are used to getting their hands dirty, but it is a change that can revolutionise an organization and give it a much brighter future. Developing others to become leaders requires lot of patience and courage.

Level 5: The Pinnacle: It is rare to reach Level 5. Not only is leadership at this level a finale of leading well on the other four levels, but it also requires both a high degree of skill and some amount of born leadership ability. It takes a lot to be able to develop other leaders; majority reach level 4; that’s what Level 5 leaders do. The individuals who reach Level 5 lead so well for so long that they create a legacy of theirs in the organization they serve.

Pinnacle leaders stand out from everyone else. They are a cut above, and they seem to bring success with them wherever they go. Leadership at this high level lifts the entire organisation and creates an environment that benefits everyone in it, contributing to the organizational success. Such leaders are irreplaceable.

Level 5 Leadership connotes honesty and integrity, commitment and passion, decision-making and accountability. Over and above, a level 5 leader must be good communicators, creative and innovative, who delegates and empowers, and is an inspiring leaders. On all these criteria, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi stands out. For him, national interest is the only interest. This image got widespread acceptability during his stint of 12 years as Gujarat CM. This stood out against the backdrop of policy paralysis, corruption and vacuum of leadership which country experienced during 2004-14. Therefore, people love him.

Elon Musk is a visionary, and truly believes in every business venture he puts his mind into. Because he has such a strong vision, he isn’t afraid to face obstacles others might find impossible to overcome. Musk is known for tackling obstacles head on. The projects he’s been involved in tackle almost every major industry and global problem, from automotive, to telecommunications, to energy. He truly personifies the level 5 leader!

(The author is a management thinker and blogger. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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