Level 5 Leader



Level 5 Leader

Apiwut Pimolsaengsuriya

Khun Puri is CEO of a multi-national company in a fast-moving-consumer-goods in Thailand. We already had a few coaching sessions and today was the final meeting, we met to review our coaching objectives and achievement.

Khun Puir is a smart young Thai CEO, this actually is his first assignment in top position in organization and he is reasonably well-accepted so far.

After having reviewed the 360-degree feedback report to ensure all key points had been covered, he then asked me for feedback.

“Khun Apiwut, one of my coaching objectives was to improve my leadership, basing on your observation during our coaching sessions, was there anything else I should improve to be a good leader?”

“Khun Puri, to be honest, although we had many sessions together, I had not seen the completed picture of you as a leader. Being a good leader is not judged only by people skills, your technical knowledge and job performance are also important which I have very limited exposure. Therefore, it’s hard to tell whether you are yet a good one”

“I understood and only wanted to ask if there was anything else I can do to improve my leadership”

“Well, I can’t tell you exactly what you have to do but I can tell you how a good leader looks like then you tell me where you are and what you need to do to get to the top of the list?. Would that be okay?”

“Oh, certainly. Why not?”

Then I explained him the concept of 5-level leadership based on a research done by former Gallup’s senior researcher named Jim Collins which became one of the best-seller reprinted article of Harvard Business Review.

Level 1 leadership : a highly capable individual who makes productive contribution to the team through talent, knowledge, skills and work habits. This kind of leader is a ‘superwoman’ who tends to do everything herself, she is the center of universe. If she doesn’t exist tomorrow, the team can’t survive.

Level 2 leadership : a contributing team member who works effectively with his team members and contributes to the achievement of team’s objectives. He tends to work hands-in-hands with his subordinates on the shopfloor level, we almost cannot distinguish the leader from followers because he blends in with the rest of the team perfectly. If he doesn’t exist tomorrow, the team will still survive.

Level 3 leadership : a competent manager who organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.  The strength of this leader is that if you give her a very clear vision and expectation, she will be able to work with her team to deliver good results. However, she will not be as successful working without direction and guidance. She tends to be a good manager than a visionary leader.

Level 4 leadership : an effective leader who catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high performance standards. The leader decides on direction and then gets people to implement his vision. He is known as charismatic, strong and tough-to-work-with leader who is both hard on people and targets.

Level 5 leadership : an executive who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Instead of promoting her own visions, the leader gets her best people together and grills them with penetrating questions to draw new strategies out of them. She is known as a leader who is hard on numbers and soft on people.

“Very interesting! But I am not sure if I can tell the clear distinction between level 4 and 5. Do you have any example?” Khun Puri asked

“Sure! Actually, there are some significant differences between a level 4 leader and a level 5 one. A level 5 leader is highly ambitious for the success of his company. He wants his company to succeed irrespective of his presence at the helm. For example, Sam Walton – the founder of Walmart - a level 5 leader, had unique and charismatic personality. When he was suffering from cancer in 1992, everybody wondered what would happen to Wal-Mart once Sam Walton is gone. But Sam Walton wanted to prove that his company is bigger than himself. He wanted to show that the company would be equally successful even when a charismatic leader like him does not head it. He chose David Gloss, who was non-charismatic, to succeed him. The company continues to be great even after its founder is dead. 

On the other hand, a level 4 leader does not bother much about the greatness of the company once he is gone. Lee Iacocca – former CEO of Ford Motor and Chrysler, for example, can be considered a level 4 leader. A level 4 leader ensures high level performance during his reign, but hardly cares about the future performance of the organization in his absence. A level 4 leader is often more bothered about his greatness than his company's greatness”

“Thank you clarification, I have clear understanding. In my experience, I had been working with all kind of these leaders, no matter what level they were, some of them were still successful” Doubted Khun Puir

“Oh sure, they all can be successful depending on how you define ‘success’!” I replied

“I agreed. Do people need to climb up the ladder to achieve the level 5?”

“No, individuals do not need to proceed sequentially through each level of the hierachy to reach the top but to be a full-fedged level 5 requires capabilities of all low levels plus special characteristic of level 5” I explained

“I see”

“Now, let’s go back to your question. Which level do you think you are and what do you need to work on to be a good leader?” I challenged him

“To be honest, I think I might be at level 4 or 4.5 but for sure, not yet at level 5. I used to work for a level 5 leader - my former boss. I know now who I should look up to and learn from him” he honestly evaluated his leadership level

“Great! I believe you will become one of the level 5 leaders some time in very near future” 

“Time will tell” Khun Puri concluded the conversation.



Apiwut Pimolsaengsuriya is Executive Director of Orchid Slingshot and a certified executive coach from International Coach Federation (ICF). Write to him at apiwut@riverorchid.com