Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Can self-absorption inhibit great leadership?

What makes a great leader? Everyone seems to have an answer. Or maybe it’s that everyone has a segment of the answer. If we put all our answers together, then perhaps they would make the complete definition of “leader”. It’s a complex title or responsibility that must excel in a variety of ways in a myriad of circumstances.

While this week’s readings focused on different aspects of great leadership, I would like to incorporate the best definition I’ve come across yet. Again, this is just a segment of the complete answer. Jim Collins, an American business consultant, author, and lecturer on the subject of company sustainability and growth, explains that leadership can be categorized into five levels, with level five being the best.

Advanced Leadership Consulting sums up the top attributes of a level five leader into the following:

  1. They are self-confident enough to set up their successors for success.
  2. They are humble and modest.
  3. They have "unwavering resolve."
  4. They display a "workmanlike diligence - more plow horse than show horse."
  5. They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results. They "attribute much of their success to 'good luck' rather than personal greatness."

Few people reach this level of leadership. Why do you think that is? While many people can be good leaders (level four leadership), why do so few attain greatness? In your opinion, what is great leadership and what characteristics describe it?

In my opinion this is because most people are more concerned with themselves than the companies. If I’m honest, a lot of professional people I know are working hard to secure themselves to a better job/position. They are worried about some aspect of their future, such as whether they’ll make enough money, whether they’ll be able to vacation with their family on a regular basis, or whether they’ll be paid for what they love to do. While this is a relatable tendency, it’s sadly becoming the norm of Western society. Self-absorption is taking its toll by limiting people’s ability to completely invest into a company’s mission. This constrains them to work hastily, lacking in vision and confidence, and with the best intentions for the self (not company) in mind.


While self-preservation is important, great leaders find a way to balance their own needs and desires with a great amount of humility and selflessness. They lead by serving, working hard, caring about others, and confidently setting high goals for those around them to achieve. And if they are going to leave, level five leaders, set up a successor to take their place upon resignation, transfer, or promotion. Wouldn’t it be nice if more people did this?


-Level 5 Leadership, The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve by Jim Collins



(Two of my favorite leaders that I categorize as Level 5 leaders are Jan Carlzon and Howard Schultz. If you want to read examples of great professional leaders, read about their stories! They are great!)

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