Good to Great: Level 5 Leadership


We had a little self-made challenge at work to read Jim Collins’s Good to Great and, although I didn’t read it as quickly as I wanted to, I managed to read it by the end of 2015. 

Good to Great is built on the premise that good is the enemy of great. That’s why so few businesses (and schools and governments and people) become great.

The first concept, part of “disciplined people” (which precedes “disciplined thought” and “disciplined action”), is Level 5 Leadership.

The key points on Level 5 Leadership are

  • It refers to a 5-level model of executive capabilities:
    • Level 1: the Highly Capable Individual (makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits)
    • Level 2: the Contributing Team Member (individual capabilities for team objectives; works effectively with others)
    • Level 3: the Competent Manager (organises people/resources for predetermined objectives)
    • Level 4: the Effective Leader (catalyses commitment to a clear and compelling vision for high performance)
    • Level 5 Executive (builds enduring greatness through personal humility and professional will)
  • Level 5 Leaders are ambitious for the company
  • They set up successors for even greater success
  • They display modesty, are self-effacing and understated
  • They attribute success outside the window and failure to themselves alone
  • They are not celebrity CEOs and you probably haven’t heard of them
  • They are like farmers working tirelessly for the company
  • They also attribute success to good luck and not something they have done themselves

Lucky for us, there are Level 5 Leaders everywhere if we know what to look for and many people can evolve into Level 5 Leaders.


One of the Level 5 Leaders discussed is Darwin E Smith, previously CEO of Kimberly-Clark. Smith was the company’s in-house lawyer and grew up on a farm in Indiana.

While he was at the helm, Kimberly-Clark saw cumulative stock returns 4.1 times the general market.

Smith credited success to employees, managers, predecessors, and customers.


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