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Obama: a Level 5 Leader?

Posted by Amy Wilson on February 3, 2009


obama-action-figureIt has been many years since I read Good to Great by Jim Collins – an excellent book all around. The part of the book that has stuck with me most is the findings on Level 5 Leadership. Every single company that made its way from a good company to a great company (only 11 based on Jim and team’s criteria), had a CEO with a similar set of traits. The leaders were humble, disciplined, and had a will for the company’s success not their own.

The findings were completely counter to conventional wisdom at the time. The headlines were filled with stories of charismatic celebrity CEO’s and their achievements. Think Lee Iacocca.

I find myself thinking about level 5 leadership quite a bit – looking for these traits in leaders I encounter, hoping to find glimmers of them in myself on occasion. I can’t help but consider our new president and his level 5 leadership potential.

At first glance, he has some work to do. He’s extremely charismatic (republican congressmen gush over him) and there’s no denying he’s a celebrity (2 million people stand in the cold to hear him speak). In fact, I was just at the bookstore and spotted Obama action figures on the shelves. No, these were not for sale, per se, but ready for pick-up, dressed in anticipation for the lucky people who thought to pre-order!

Yes, some work to do. However, there is a passage in the book that gives me hope. Collins claims that the serious folly of the charismatic leader is the unwillingness of those around him/her to give bad news. Apparently, no one wants to disappoint the charismatic; whereas if you’re shy and awkward, let ‘er rip! However, it is possible to overcome one’s charisma. Winston Churchill, for example, recognized this weakness in himself and hired people specifically to tell him bad news. I can’t help but wonder if Obama’s “team of rivals” strategy is his way of keeping himself humble by surrounding himself with naysayers. Let’s hope!

3 Responses to “Obama: a Level 5 Leader?”

  1. Meg Bear said

    I think we are all hopeful that Obama is as solid of a leader as he was a campaigner.

    I like the idea that a leader who is best in touch with reality is best equipped to make his (or her) company succeed. That just seems how the world ought to work. Hiding from bad news can’t possibly help anyone. Withholding bad news from your leader is not the best example of character either.

  2. […] Obama: a Level 5 Leader? […]

  3. […] for underlings to resist telling bad news to a charismatic leader?” Amy Wilson presents Obama: a Level 5 Leader? posted at […]

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