Working SMART: Library of Congress ISSN 1551-4633



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Pursuit of "Good to Great" Leadership

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In the business best seller Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't, author Jim Collins explores common elements to eleven publicly traded companies that made a transformation from good performance to at least fifteen years of outperforming the market by a factor of seven.  



If good is the enemy of great—and I believe it is—the current trends in leadership give the decided edge to the enemy. - Jim Collins

Abe LincolnAs the book explores the elements of leadership common to all of the Good To Great companies, there is one trait that is conspicuous by its absence: a celebrity CEO.  The high profile styles of "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap, Lee Iacocoa, or Jack Welch were conspicuously missing from the profiled companies.  Instead, the Good to Great companies all possessed what Collins calls Level Five Leadership. (Link to the 5 levels defined). In short, they are modern day personifications of Abraham Lincoln. They exhibit a combination two rare traits: (more).

  1. Professional Will:  An unwavering focus on doing the right things for the long term good of their organization 

  2. Personal Humility:  an inherent ability to selflessly shun the limelight and deflect the credit for their success to others in the organization or outside factors.

While Collins' attributes of leadership greatness are fascinating and insightful, what do we do with this knowledge?  Are there ways to either develop these traits or recognize them in the leaders we hire and promote? 

Three Steps to Gaining Level 5 leadership Attributes

  • Recognize the value of a Level 5 Leader in terms of what this kind of leader can do for both an organization's culture and its ability to produce outstanding financial results.  Without both awareness and desire for Level Five attributes, it is unlikely that this knowledge will provide much benefit.  Assuming that you have the prerequisite awareness and desire, what can you DO to pursue greatness in your organization?

  • Utilize Executive Assessments for your current and prospective leaders to determine both the existence and potential for developing the desired attributes. The merging of behavioral science and computer science now enables us to gain incredible insight into the styles, values and skills of your leaders. (more) A leader's level of skills, values and styles can be identified and developed.  We've collected the most relevant assessable attributes of Level Five Leaders in the table below.  

Level 5 Related Skills and Attributes

  • Self Management

  • Goal Achievement

  • Results Orientation

  • Interpersonal Skills

  • Diplomacy and Tact

  • Personal Accountability

  • Influencing Others

  • Developing Others

  • Flexibility

  • Versatility

  • Teamwork

  • Decision Making

  • Resiliency

  • Self Starting

  • Accountability for Others

  • Continuous Learning

  • Conceptual Thinking

  • Empathetic Outlook

  • Leading Others

  • Customer Focus

  • Objective Listening

Level 5 Related Values and Motivators




The value of pursuit of knowledge, continuous improvement of self and the organization.

The value of personal recognition and control over their own destiny and others.

The value of practical achievements, ROI, on time achievement, energy and resources.

Level 5 Related Behavioral Styles




Predictable, steady, composed. Steadiness supports the hedgehog concept.Level 5s are not inherently charismatic. They tend to be compassionate, amiable, objective and logical.Levels 5s are not domineering or highly driven. They are inclined to be purposeful, moderate and conservative.

Assessments provide your rating relative to the national mean. Armed with this insight, you can more effectively put this to use through heightened self awareness and utilize this to move closer to the desired traits when you...

  • Implement Leadership Development processes that are designed to develop the skills and attributes, mindset and focus to help leaders to move from one level to the next. When strategically applied, these programs can typically pay for themselves five times over as their focus on results accelerates achievement in predefined areas.

Is "Level 5" a Realistic Pursuit? 

I must confess that I personally do not possess all of the attributes of a Level 5 Leader. Your first clue is my photo splashed across the top of this page.  Good to Great author Jim Collins has also admitted that he's not there either. These Lincoln-like leadership attributes are a rare combination.  However, armed with an admiration and appreciation of how these attributes can make us more effective, combined with the knowledge of where we are deficient and a process for continuous development of our emotional intelligence, we can progress toward the next level of personal and professional effectiveness.  Measurable improved results are a proven and natural by-product.



Author's Note

Through the merging of behavioral science and internet technology, we are able to assess measure the attributes in the three categories described above.  This allows you to determine how you and your leaders measure up to the requirements of their position. Our methods and their application are described in greater detail at

Link to our other Good To Great articles


Tom Lemanski of Vista Development serves as a Business Catalyst and  Executive Coach working  with clients in a variety of industries to strategically develop their key performers.  


Tom Lemanski of Vista Development serves as an executive coach, trusted advisor and business catalyst in helping executives, managers and sales professionals to become SMARTer Leaders.


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• Working SMART: Library of Congress ISSN 1551-4633


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