Become a Great Leader (in 5 Easy Steps)

Does your church have a good leader?  Does the company you work for have a good leader?  Are you part of an organization that has a great leader?  What differentiates a great leader from a good leader?  Jim Collins, the author of the book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t,” gave a keynote speech at the Drucker Centennial conference last May, in which he gave a look at the differences between good leaders and great leaders.  He said that leadership is a hierarchy of capabilities, and leaders become competent at each level before moving on to the next level.

Board of DirectorsCollins’ company did a study of many different GREAT leaders, and used a pool of GOOD leaders as a control group.  The good-to-great (Level 5) leaders were different from their comparison leaders; they were cut from a different cloth.  Here are the five levels of leadership that Collins identified:

  • Level 1 – Individual capability – the ability to manage yourself
  • Level 2 – Team capability – the ability to play well with others
  • Level 3 – Good, competent, effective management
  • Level 4 – Ability to set direction and lead
  • Level 5 – Humility – the great leaders are marked by humility

What separated the truly exceptional leader was their humility, defined as an ability to channel their ambition into something that’s bigger than themselves.  This was interesting to me.  Jim Collins is not an über-religious man (though he has studied religious leaders), so for him to come up with “humility” as the thing that sets great leaders apart from the pack is fascinating.  We don’t think of humility as a secular trait (at least I don’t).  Many people want their leaders to be hard-hitting, to know a lot more than every other leader, to be aggressive.

But, when you think about it, it’s true.  Humble leaders are good leaders.  They recognize their limitations.  They bring people around them to complement their weaknesses.  They are quick to realize when they’ve made a bad decision, and quick to implement a remedy.  Often, they humble themselves, and come to work among the “little people,” to get a feel for what it’s really like (I’m thinking of the TV show “Undercover Boss,” even though those leaders couldn’t really be considered “great”).

So, what do you do if you want to become a great leader?  Collins offers a to-do list for young leaders:

Ten To-Dos to Consider for the Next Generation of Level 5 Leaders

  1. Build a personal board of directors—people selected not for their accomplishment, but for their character.  These are the people that (knowingly or unknowingly) guide you in the direction of your life.
  2. Turn off your electronic gadgets—turn them off for yourself.  Effective people take time to think.  Begin the discipline of putting whitespace in your calendar.  Rick Warren reads a book a day!
  3. Work on your three circles—study yourself like a bug.  Here are your three circles; where these three circles intersect is where you should be working: (a) What are you deeply passionate about? (b) What are you genetically coded for–what activities do you feel just “made to do”? (c) What makes economic sense–what can you make a living at?
  4. What is your question to statements ratio, and can you double it?  John Gardner said, “You spend way too much time trying to be interesting; why don’t you channel your time around being interested.”  Try to learn something interesting about every person you meet.
  5. If you woke up tomorrow morning, and discovered that you’d inherited $20 million, and also discovered that you only had 10 years left to live, what would you stop doing?
  6. Start your “Stop Doing” list.  What are you going to stop doing?
  7. Unplug the opportunities that distract you.
  8. Find something for which you have so much passion that you’re willing to endure the pain to achieve it.
  9. Articulate the values on which you will not compromise.
  10. Prepare to live a life where, at age 65, you’re one third of the way through your work.

Question: Would you add anything to this list of to-dos to become a good leader?  If so, what?