Blog: The Wheat Sheaf

Is Level 5 Leadership Something You Are Born With?

On December 2, 2015, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing retired Lieutenant-General, the Honourable Roméo Dallaire address a room of over 500 agriculture leaders at the Grow Canada conference in Calgary.  As a student of leadership at Royal Roads University, I was struck when LGen Dallaire stated “I am in the business of leading, not managing.” Having studied the concept of management versus leadership, I was pleased that as part of his presentation LGen Dallaire included his definition if you will, of leadership.  

LGen Dallaire outlined his four “leadership themes:”

The importance of having a vision and thinking strategically.
The value of a unified effort, with multi-disciplinary leaders that create a cohesive team.
The need to demonstrate strength, to be pro-active and take risks.
The importance of aim – often achieved through a clear and concise mission statement.

LGen Dallaire is arguably one of Canada’s most accomplished leaders so I was naturally keen to explore what it is that contributed to his remarkable success. In his article, “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve” (2001, Harvard Business Review), Jim Collins posited that leadership takes many different forms and that truly exceptional results can only be achieved by truly exceptional leaders or what he refers to “level five leaders.”  Level 5 leadership is the combination of incredible humility and unwavering will. According to Collins, Level 5 leaders “channel ambition into the company, not the self, and demonstrate unwavering resolve no matter how difficult the challenge.” Level 5 leaders also look outwards when attributing success and inwards when assigning responsibility. By comparison, Level 4 leaders can be very effective as they “catalyze commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision and stimulate the group to high performance standards,” but they lack the humility that seems to separate the very best from the rest.

And as an aspiring leader I was left feeling perplexed and perhaps a tad discouraged with what Collins had to say about the transition from Level 4 to Level 5 leadership: “the great irony is that the animus and personal ambition that often drives people to become a Level 4 leader stands at odds the humility to rise to level 5.”  So, I wanted to know, is Level 5 leadership something you are born with or is it something we can work to develop?

Collins indicated that as part of his research into this question he discovered that for many Level 5 leaders that ability can lurk untapped for years often until such a time when they have a life altering experience.  Some of the Level 5 leaders that he pointed to as part of his study had near-death experiences or had been to war when serving as part of their country’s military.  This got me thinking about the many incredible stories that Dallaire shared with us –stories of circumstances and situations that were both so profoundly touching and deeply devastating. I was left wondering how these experiences would have shaped his leadership style. 

I have invited the Honourable Ted Menzies, President and CEO at CropLife Canada to share his thoughts on leadership and the importance of will and humility and how this concept of “Level 5 Leadership” aligns with the leadership themes that have served to inform his journey.  I am pleased that he will share some of his thoughts and insights with Canada’s agriculture community in a follow up to this piece

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