Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Could You Be a Level 5 Leader?

There are many ways to define great leadership. I've been enjoying the insights of author and business guru, Jim Collins and I plan to share a snippet here and there over the next two or three weeks.

In his bestselling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins highlights what he calls Level 5 leadership - the pinnacle of the leadership hierarchical order. Level 5 leaders transform ordinary organizations into great ones. At a very high level, here's a summary of Collin's model -

Level 1 - individual capability
Level 2 - team skills
Level 3 - managerial competence
Level 4 - effective leadership.

Level 5 leaders take it to the next level. They possess the skills of levels 1 to 4 but also have the essential component of blending personal humility with relentless will to accomplish the mission. They have been able to displace their ambition for personal greatness with the ambition for the mission of the organization/enterprise.

In this very brief talk (3+ minutes), Jim Collins talks about the evolution of leadership from level 1 to level 5 in the life of Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM. Collins concludes by making this point - our first task is to find work that we care enough about to be a level 5 leader. I found his point very thought provoking and challenging.

Is he right? Is the type of work we engage in really that important? As Christians, is there another way to think about this? Do I feel that way about the work I do?


Phil said...

Andre -

I hope you're going to answer the rhetorical questions you asked at the end of this post. As for me I've always felt that the type of work that I do does matter, but I wonder if that is the wrong way to look at it. I want to have the mindset that whether I pick up trash on the side of the road or run a company I do it for God's glory and to the best of my ability. I think I've bought into the lie of the American Dream that tells me that I owe it to myself to do what I want to do. What are your thoughts on this?

andre said...


Thanks for your thoughts on this post. For the most part, I tend to agree with your point of view and have subscribed to it. However, I think Collins' point is interesting - find work we really care about - the kind of work that can bring out our very best.

I think there's a kernel of truth in what he's saying. One way to think about this is - are we doing the kind of work that we're made for? If we start with the premise that God calls us to particular work, then participating in that work should bring out our best and bring us much joy.

That's not to say that we shouldn't be joyful regardless of the work we do - whether we're running a company or picking up trash. But perhaps we should trust God to provide the work that is satisfying and purposeful.

In response to your request that I answer my "rhetorical" question - I can genuinely say that I've been blessed to enjoy every job I've had. I haven't viewed the job as my ultimate pursuit but God has blessed me with work that has been appropriate for every stage of my life.

L.L. Barkat said...

I was considering this today, in the conversation over on Seedlings, about Small Things. Everyone there pretty much accepted that if we can't be faithful in the small things, we won't be in the "big" things...

still, I was wondering what part our personal motivations might play. Personal interests. In other words, could I be a level 5 leader as a housekeeper? I wouldn't want to be. Really. But if I were to keep house with a bad attitude, maybe this suggests my attitude would follow me wherever I go. For, surely, even at a place one loves, those "less than desirable" tasks and moments show up.

No answers here... just musing.

Mark Goodyear said...

Andre, that short audio clip is a good resource.

At one point he says we need to look for "work we care enough about to risk the pain of the decisions you'll have to make." He says Gerstner became a great leader when he fell in love with IBM.

Then you ask, "Is the type of work we engage in really that important? As Christians, is there another way to think about this? Do I feel that way about the work I do?"

For me the answer is yes. The type of work I do is really that important. I didn't just teach English for ten years, I was a teacher. I'm not just editing words now, I'm an editor. For me, part of my identity gets to surface through my work.

However, I don't love every detail about my work. There are always the days when I just have to grind it out like everyone else. All jobs have those moments. All of life has those moments.

And I don't believe our work and our occupation necessarily overlap. I have a friend who is a good doctor. He was my doctor and my kids' for many years. That's his occupation. But his work is song writing and playwrighting. His work brought my wife and me together. In fact, his work brought my wife to Christ. And he's never made a penny from it.

andre said...


Thanks for sharing your musings. I followed the discussion on Seedlings and glad for you drawing attention to the ethic of "being faithful in little".

Perhaps there is a connection to this post - and Phil's earlier comment. Regardless of the nature of work - faithfulness in our work is a foundational ethic for the Christian - it says that we trust that God has given us this work as a gift and we need to steward it as such.

Yet, there is also a place for trusting God for work that is meaningful and work we're passionate about. For instance, being a writer.

andre said...


I love the distinction you're making in your comment -

"I didn't just teach English for ten years, I was a teacher...For me, part of my identity gets to surface through my work."

I find your comment interesting because as Christians, we often think of someone linking their identity with their work as something undesirable. Yet, the point you're making in counter to that view, yet very compelling.

I think you're on to something...yet I wonder...when it comes to linking your identity with your work, is there a good approach and a bad approach? What's the difference, I wonder?

Thanks for your thought provoking comment.

L.L. Barkat said...

Sometimes I think about the work Jesus did. What choice did he have but to be apprenticed in his father's business? But, somehow, his Father's business was at the heart of all he did, from childhood through his working years.

Mark Longwind said...

What a provoking discussion! Ephesians 2:10 says "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Major theological concepts are embedded here. No doubt our work and our identities as creatures are in view ("we are God's workmanship...to do good works"). I think this is a definitive text on the concept of Calling in general. God has effectually called us as Christians, and our calling as disciples of Christ has a set of sub-callings, which have their own responsibilities and rewards. As father, husband, worker, church member, citizen, evangelist, friend, etc. each of us are called to obey God and shape these areas for His glory.

My increasing conviction is that our vocations are unique callings for us to be Salt and Light, both a preservative from sinful decay and a source of truth and guidance to others, even non-Christians. This is where a leader's role is unique. People like Andre who have earned a credibility and respect can be powerful means God uses as Salt and Light. Of course, God can use a trash man as effectively as He wants, but something about the daily grind of pursuing leadership at work reflects Christ in a persistent, evident way that is hard to contradict.

At the end of the day, I would love to see more existing Christian leaders offer a vision for other Christian workers to pursue "Level 5 Leadership." It is a sound concept, though in need of Biblical moorings. I would love to see a movement where more Christians are trained regarding vocation to be Ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, equipped with Christ's servant heart and a coherent Christian worldview. Imagine a generation of believers serving our God-ordained masters (Col 3:22-25) with total diligence, motivated toward all by kindness and mercy, and sharpened as thought leaders to counter false presuppositions set up against the gospel. This can all happen while serving our corporate mandates. Like an Ambassador living under the laws of the land, we work for the interests of Christ as much as we can. Work, unlike any other calling in our lives, is where we can demonstrate before unbelievers daily whether our Kingdom consists of empty talk or genuine power. Whether we are CEO of IBM or the janitor at the local YMCA, we can pursue this vision.

I appreciate feedback on this idea. I have been working on this as the basis for my own blog (www.adeolumen.com), which has been “in Beta” to this point. I hope to bring more focus to what I described, but let me know if you guys think I am overstepping the Biblical picture of vocation.

andre said...


Yes, you point out an interesting difference between how we in the 21st century interpret our career choices versus that of the pre-industrial revolution age. In Jesus' time, it was normative for children to follow the work of their parents - in fact, so much so that in the gospels, Jesus was referred to as the "son of the carpenter" and then later as "the carpenter".

I'm taking a couple of things from your insight - Even though they did not have the vocational choices we do, was God not still at work in those choices? Perhaps, our choice is less important than the manner in which we conduct our work. Perhaps, there's a way to do work...any work given to us, in a faith enabled, passion-filled way.

Thanks LL, for your thought provoking comment.

andre said...

Mark Longwind,

Thanks! Your passion for seeing increase focus on integrating work and faith is wonderful. It's a primary reason for why Every Square Inch was started.

I look forward to more conversations on this.

daud said...

"blending personal humility with relentless will to accomplish the mission" - wow, i hope to attain to this kinda kungfu level :D