Level 5 Leadership & Barack Obama

Level 5 Leaders, according to Jim Collins in his 2001 bestselling book, Good to Great, possess “a paradoxical mix of intense determination and profound humility.” Collins proposes that the most effective leaders of modern business have been extremely humble, self-sacrificing executives who are more interested in the long-term benefit of the team and the company than in personal ego and financial gain. Collins goes on to state that although his findings come from empirical evidence collected from the business realm, his recommendations are also good for other sectors, even politics. While discussing Level 5 leadership with my students last Spring, I proposed a minor qualification to Colling’ theory: Perhaps a really great Level 5 leader (a Level 6 leader?) is so self-sacrificing that he is willing to put himself in the spotlight, to attract fame and popularity, and to even be criticized for not possessing the characteristics of Level 5 leadership for the sake of his company, his community, or his country if that is what is needed.

Barack Obama has recently been criticized by John McCain’s camp (see McCain’s ad here) for being an arrogant celebrity, an ego maniacal personality whom is more interested in his own fame than in confronting the many challenges America is sure to face in the near future. I agree with Steve Schmidt, McCain’s campaign manager when he says, “I would say that it is beyond dispute that [Barack Obama] has become the biggest celebrity in the world,” but I don’t think that is such a bad thing. I think at this critical point in American history we need a leader who inspires us and calls on us to help move the country in a positive direction. We need a leader who is willing to assume whatever role is necessary to bring out the best in us, even if that role is as a seemingly self centred celebrity.

I, of course, have concerns about Obama’s lack of experience and his tendency to revel in his fame, but I think his ability to inspire Americans is important at this time and is something we need right now to shift our momentum as a country. It is much to early to tell if Obama is a Level 6 leader, but I certainly hope so.


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