Level 5 Leadership: Which is harder to cultivate within yourself: humility or will?
Level 5 leadership involves what Collins (2001) calls the "paradoxical blend of humility and will," (p. 13). As a result, Level 5 leaders are "a study in duality," as they exhibit other binaries, such as being both humble and fearless; both modest and willful (Collins, 2001). The complexity of human character makes it possible to hold two seemingly disparate qualities in check at any one time, knowing exactly when, how, and why to turn on one binary (like humility) versus the other. Collins expands upon the concept of Level 5 leadership in the opening sections of From Good to Great because Level 5 leadership is central to effectively motivating others and promoting the values of an organization.
Both humility and will are difficult qualities to perfect. All leaders possess both humility and will to a greater or lesser degree. Even the most arrogant-seeming leaders have points at which they are willing to surrender their egos and let others shine. If they did not have the trait of humility anywhere, then their leadership would be less effective and certainly not at Level 5. Other leaders might appear more driven and ambitious than they actually are; will is a long-term proposition. Starting a project and not seeing it through, or buckling under pressure, are signs of inefficient will that must be balanced by determination and perseverance.
Therefore, some leaders find it more difficult than others to cultivate one or the other: will vs. humility. Of the two central qualities of Level 5 leadership, it would seem that humility would be harder to develop or cultivate. This may be especially true of "young, nonwhite or female" leaders, who are have "to constantly prove their competence to followers," ("Humility Key to Effective Leadership," 2011). Oddly enough, it may be that female leaders find it easier to cultivate humility but more difficult to attract followers who appreciate humility as a leadership trait. Collins's work seems to suggest that Level 5 leaders often do go unrecognized because their innate sense of humility does not correspond with the stereotype of the authoritarian, arrogant leader who takes all the credit and none of the personal responsibility.
Leaders also have the potential to abuse their position of power: a phenomenon that arises out of underdeveloped humility. Ultimately, leaders live constantly with the threat of failure and loss of pride. Humility exposes vulnerability, which can be misconstrued as weakness. Ironically, it takes a high degree of will to overcome the self-doubt and defeatism that comes with the territory of leadership Having the will to succeed means moving through failure, and countering obstacles with greater and greater exhibitions of strength and purpose. In addition to humility and will, a Level 5 leader will demonstrate unwavering resolve and determination, as well as "inspired standards," (Collins, 2001, p. 31). The inspired standards, resolve, and determination of a Level 5 leader tie into the need for perfected will and perfected humility.
Level 5 leaders are just ambitious enough to focus firmly on the goals of the organization and do whatever it takes to achieve those goals. However, the Level 5 leader's ambition is not for personal gain: herein lies the power of humility. Humility becomes the foundation upon which Level 5 leaders build their capabilities and their staff. It is harder to achieve a position of leadership before first developing the humility that is required when working with teams. The will that it takes to address crisis, challenge, and change is therefore much harder to develop over the long run. Humility will come with the territory, as all crises shed light upon the weaknesses inherent in the organization or in the leadership itself.
Humility is a core trait of leadership that has been proven effective in research. "leader humility is associated with more learning-oriented teams, more engaged employees and lower voluntary employee turnover," ("Humility Key to Effective Leadership," 2011). Therefore, it is crucial to understand how to hone humility to its greatest effect. Honing humility requires will: the will to learn and grow; the will to achieve organizational goals as a team rather than as an individual who must be in the spotlight. Even the most charismatic leaders, like Richard Branson, on some level understand what humility is and how to cultivate it. Humility is difficult to cultivate because it requires a skillful balance between having a strong personality and ego, on the one hand, and having the ability to learn, grow, and accept responsibility for mistakes. The reason why humility is more difficult to cultivate in leaders is because of what Collins (2001) calls the "great irony…that the animus and personal ambition that often drive people to positions of power stand at odds with the humility required for Level 5 leadership, (p. 36).
Both will and humility are difficult to cultivate, especially in tandem. And yet at the same time, it takes great personal will to cultivate humility -- and a great sense of humility to have the will to power through difficult situations and difficult people. There is a reason why Collins (2001) focuses so intently on these two seemingly contradictory traits as opposed to other character trait binaries. Effective leadership demands the personal maturity to recognize the difference between strength of character and arrogance.
2.0 Who First? If compensation is not the primary driver for the right people on the bus, then what are the primary elements in getting and keeping the right people on the bus? What role does compensation play?
Using an extended metaphor of a bus, Collins (2001) states that it is more important to "first get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) before you figure out where to drive it," (p. 44). Getting the right people on the bus allows the leader, and the entire organization, to "more easily adapt to a changing world," (Collins, 2001, p. 42). After getting the right people on the bus, the organization needs strategic means of keeping them there. Research shows that compensation is not the best methods of manager retention. Collins (2001) states there is "no systematic pattern linking specific forms of executive compensation to the process of going from good to great," (p. 10). Corporate performance is not linked to compensation because compensation is an extrinsic reward, based on the assumption that great people are motivated extrinsically. The opposite may be true. Collins's (2001) assessment of the role of compensation is not necessarily substantiated by the literature. For example, Van Herpen, Praag & Cools (2005) found that there is a direct and significant relationship between compensation systems in the organization, and work satisfaction, motivation, and turnover intent. Sears (2009) also found that incentive pay has a high impact on employee retention. It is likely that there were serious flaws in Collins (2001) study designs that show no differences in compensation strategy impacts on employee motivation and retention.
At the same time, Collins (2001) does point out that there are other significant variables in employee retention that are jut as important if not more important than compensation. One issue that Collins (2001) talks about falls into place with the "who first" philosophy. Just as it is more important to get the right people on the bus first before determining where the bus is going, it is also important to pay the right people first. "It's not how you compensate your executives, it's which executives you have to compensate in the first place," (Collins, 2001, p. 50). Using a more effective compensation strategy starts with getting the right people on board, and then realizing that those right people are motivated by a lot more than money. "The right people will do the right things and deliver the best results they're capable of, regardless of the incentive system," (Collins, 2001, p. 50). Compensation is also crucial not in modeling specific behaviors (such as getting more sales) but in retaining the right people so that they are loyal to the company.
Character attributes are therefore one of the key components of knowing who to keep on the bus. Liberal layoffs can be disastrous for organizations that do not recognize valuable employees. Companies that take on and let go of valuable employees are not good to great companies. The organizations that recognize who the right people are, and know how to motivate and retain them, are organizations that go from good to great and stay great. Compensation can and should be a core component of keeping the right people happy, which is why it is important to listen to employees and take into account concerns related to the organization's compensation strategies. If, as Sears (2009) found, incentive pay and commissions help to motivate employees, then the leader of the organization might need to take that into account. However, the leader would do much better to get on board the employees that do not need incentive pay in order to feel like they…