A smart team starts with its leader. If a team is failing, you typically have to look no further than its leader. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins believes the top leadership level a person can achieve is what he calls Level 5 Leadership.

“Level 5 refers to a five-level hierarchy of executive capabilities, with Level 5 at the top. Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves.”

One of the most advantageous aspects of writing about leadership and team building is how much I continue to learn about myself. As I analyze myself compared to the great leaders that researchers study, I am not sure if I am more like the bumbling self-absorbed Michael Scott from NBC’s the office or if I have a shot at becoming a Darwin Smith of Kimberly-Clark who turned a failing company into a Wall Street darling. Will I be Michael and buy myself a coffee mug declaring myself the “World’s Best Boss,” or will I be ferociously dedicated to my companies’ success with the humility of Smith when he said, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job”?


As Collins writes, “Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious-but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”

A couple of years ago I spoke to a person who had taken over a flailing company. I was excited about her vision for the company and how she intended on motivating its depressed sales force and confused employees. I was impressed with the plan, it was innovative and superbly thought out. However, I became disheartened in the future of her plan when she told me, “Besides, if it fails, I will make a nice stack of cash trying.” Ouch.

In a fast-food world, we are applying principles of convenient and disposable to our careers and our companies. Often times jobs are looked at as simply a stepping stone to pad the resume for the next big thing. No wonder our teams are uninspired and transient.

Good to Great found that Level 4 leaders often put their ambition and legacy ahead of the business. “In over three quarters of the comparison companies (underperforming companies), we found executives who set their successors up for failure or chose weak successors, or both.” How many people are truly more concerned about their legacy instead of the true health of the company? How many business Pharaohs are more concerned about building their personal Sphinx that will last longer than the kingdom?

Building a smarter team is not easy. Becoming a Level 5 leader is even harder. Something I do know, it is imperative that we take the attitude of Darwin Smith and constantly try to learn our position better. The minute you think you have it all figured out is when your foundation will begin to crumble.