Humility is good. But it may not make your company great.

7 Apr

Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve is excerpted from the mega-selling business book by Jim Collins, Good to Great.

Collins describes a Level 5 leader as “an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will” — in my estimation, an external, subjective judgment with no data to back it up. My opinion is formed in part, no doubt, by our earlier reading of Good to Great, or Just Good? According to the authors of that article, Collins did not support the conclusions in Good to Great with rigorous data. In fact, the data as analyzed by Bruce Niendorf and Kristine Beck showed that Collins’ 11 Good-to-Great companies did not produce the stellar long-term financial results he claimed, calling the rest of his conclusions into question.

I see that pattern in this excerpt too. Collins is a great storyteller, and the CEOs he features, such as Darwin E. Smith, come alive on the page. But a rigorous approach to data? Not so much.

For example, examine the Level 5 hierarchy, as detailed in a callout on page 5. What differentiates a Level 5 leader from Level 4, according to Collins, is personal humility, along with professional will. That’s it? Personal humility is the difference? Sorry, I just don’t think that explains it. Plenty of Level 4 leaders have humility as well. Was this measured and quantified in any way? No.

Again, my skepticism is bleeding over from the Niendorf/Beck article. Collins cites the modesty of Coleman M. Mockler, former CEO of Gillette, as “typical of Level 5 leaders.” But did he test this hypothesis? Say, something like:

H0 : Level 5 leader = profit

HA : Level 5 leader ≠ profit

That’s a little loose for an actual testable hypothesis, but you get the idea. Collins refers to extensive interviews with multiple executives , but nowhere in this excerpt is there any hard data provided to document Level 5 Leadership really exists as a key factor pushing companies toward greatness. It’s all subjective. Although Collins didn’t prove his case with statistics, at least in this article, I love and support his concept and his values. The world does not need more Al “Chainsaw” Dunlaps. Humility is a good thing.


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