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What makes a great leader?

July 20th, 2012

What makes some leaders great while others are just good? Why do some get outstanding results from their organisation while others just make do?

Jim Collins addressed this in his book Good to Great which I mentioned in an earlier article. Collins talks about Level Five Leaders, the ones who just seem to get it right, who founded their organisation around three elements of excellence in a very practical & pragmatic way.

Three elements of excellence are:

1. Disciplined people
This was making sure the organisation had the right people ‘on the bus’ & they shared the leader’s view of excellence.

2. Disciplined thought
This is being brutally honest about things, recognising when things were going well, but more importantly when they weren’t going so well and having the courage to address the issue.

3. Disciplined action
Also making sure that they remained on task & weren’t distracted by issues that didn’t move them towards their main goal. Remembering to ask WIMTBGF (if you don’t know what this means have a look at some previous articles)

So let’s have a look in a bit more detail what Collins thinks makes the great leader

Level 5 Leaders want the organisation to succeed
Now you might think every leader wants that, but in this case the Level 5 Leader has the organisation’s best interests in the forefront of their mid rather than their own personal goals or aspirations. They tend not to be ‘brassy & showy’ but quite modest

Level 5 Leaders are driven
Good is the enemy of great & the Level 5 Leader is looking for exceptional results on a continuous ongoing basis rather than having some one-off wins and some not so good results. It’s having a clarity of purpose & then making sure everyone else has a view for excellence

Level 5 Leaders build other leaders
The Level 5 Leader doesn’t feel threatened by others succeeding & growing. Just the opposite they embrace others growing & are always looking for successors, quite often already in the organisation (other leaders often don’t mind others failing as it makes them look good)

Level 5 Leaders share the praise
When there is a success the Level 5 Leader is happy to share that success with others in the organisation – in fact sometimes you won’t even know they were involved. But if things go the other way the Level 5 Leader will front up & take responsibility.

Level 5 Leaders are never looking for the spotlight
Collins found that the Level Five Leader never tended to be ‘larger than life business celebrities’, more having a blend of ‘professional humility & professional will’

The leader isn’t necessarily the ‘top dog’ in an organisation either; it can be at any level & in any role. Just imagine what your organisation would be like full of Level 5 Leaders.

So take time to assess how you are, how you are perceived, how you may be able to get even better results in your organisation. Remember ‘good is the enemy of great’, so keep a clarity of purpose & strive for excellence in everything you do.

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