Level 5 coaching


Level 5 Coaching?

To understand some of the dynamics of L5-coaching it is important to understand what is meant by “Level 5 Leadership”.

In the process of getting to grips with this, we also need to understand that “Leadership” per se is not something that has been reserved for the chosen few in organisations. If we understand some of the characteristics that make up a L5 Leader, we will identify more and more of them all around us on a daily basis.

In his book “Good to Great” Jim Collins describes the concept of “Level 5 Leadership”, with “5” being the highest level of leadership that “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”. It is seen as “paradoxical” because usually a person with a very strong professional will is not expected to be humble as well.

If we move away from stereotypes we need to clearly understand that “strong will” does not mean “arrogant” and “humble” does not mean “weak”. To have a strong professional will means that you are extremely focused on, and have an unwavering belief in what you have to achieve even if all the odds are against you. To be humble means that you are modest, almost shy and never let your ego get in the way of what you have to achieve.

Collins says the following:

“My hypothesis is that there are two categories of people: those who do not have the seed of Level 5 and those who do. The first category consists of people who could never in a million years bring themselves to subjugate their egoistic needs to the greater ambition of building something larger and more lasting than themselves. For these people, work will always be first and foremost about what they get – fame fortune, adulation, power, whatever – not what they build, create and contribute”. He continues; “The second category of people – and I suspect the larger group – consists of those who have the potential to evolve to Level 5; the capability resides within them, perhaps buried, ignored, but there nonetheless. And under the right circumstances – self-reflection, conscious personal development, a mentor, a great teacher, loving parents, a significant life experience, a Level 5 boss, or any other number of factors – they begin to develop.”

The characteristics of a L5 leader or elements of L5 leadership can not be reduced to a number of traits or steps that, when you have them or follow them, you can become a L5 leader. It has much more to do with the person individually and what is going on in their little black box. It is far more subtle and dynamic. The latent potential will always be there and like a seed that needs the correct temperature and nourishment to germinate, the latent potential of a potential L5 leader will flourish when the appropriate circumstances present themselves to that person.

So what are the signs to look out for in a potential L5 leader?

  • Where you see extraordinary results in a department, branch, organisation and nobody comes forward to claim the prize.
  • A very ambitious person, but not for him/herself rather for the greater good of the organisation.
  • Someone who is modest and understated yet has a steel-hard determination.
  • A person who has a successor and expects that successor to do better than what he/she did.
  • A person who is fanatical about sustained good results of the business unit.
  • People who has workman-like characteristics and get their hands dirty with the work to be done.
  • A person that has gone through a significant life experience that has energised them to do life differently. This may be something like a very serious illness that he/she recovered from.
  • The Window and Mirror concept – A L5 leader or potential leader will look in a mirror when something has gone wrong and will not adopt a blaming attitude by looking through the window to find someone else. When things go well they will look through the window to see who should get the benefit and not in the mirror to take the reward. L5 and potential L5 leaders play down their involvement in the success that has been achieved. They do not want the praise and will deflect it to the people who were involved.

L5 Coaching

The role of a coach is to listen, observe, clarify, guide, inspire, ignite, energise and let creative thought and action make discoveries that transform. A coach is the catalyst for a potential L5 leader to assist in creating the right circumstances for them to come to their own. They need to know that the conventional profile of a so-called leader being a larger-than-life character that has an ego that spills over and influences people around him/her in the business, can at best be a “good” leader. The “good leader” may achieve good results while at the company, but in most cases when good leaders leave, the performance of the company also drops. To have the potential to be a L5 leader means that the mix of humility and professional will is the recipe to become a “great” leader who aims to create something larger than themselves. They will achieve good results while at the company and when they leave the successor will continue and do even better.

As a coach we need to be very aware of our own stereotypical thinking. Many coaches may disagree with me but it does not matter who you are, some of our interactions may be contaminated by our own worldview, ideas and preferences. It is therefore quite useful to observe yourself from a third position while coaching, almost like looking in a mirror or through a video camera during the coaching process. I mention this because if we are looking for the potential indicators of a L5 leader, the paradoxical mix of humility and a strong will may appear complex to us and we may interpret it differently, missing the opportunity to explore all the other possible cues.

So, having said all this, how does L5-coaching differ from other coaching?

  • It will not differ from the usual coaching model and process that we use, but the difference is in our awareness of other qualities in this person that need to be explored a bit more.
    It will therefore be very useful to know what significant life experiences the client has gone through, if any, and how that had an influence on their world view.
  • It will help to pay attention to the results of the business unit that this person is responsible for and to determine who received the accolades for that. It will also be good to ask how they feel about their success and hear what they have to say. (L5 -potential will play it down).
  • It will be good to know how ambitious the person is and where the ambition lies; self ambition or ambition for the company.
  • When something has gone wrong in the business, who was responsible for that.
  • Questions about the person’s involvement or perceived involvement in the actual day to day work will indicate whether they have a “hands off” approach or whether they actually get involved in the work itself.
  • Explore what our client’s views are in terms of results and the sustainability of it.
  • Does the person have a successor and if so, how ready and competent is that person to take over. If not now, establish when.

Last thoughts

L5 coaching has nothing to do with a new process or model, but more with the quality of awareness by the coach. An awareness that will indicate possible Level 5 leadership qualities and then to explore it to bring the client to a realisation that they are not strange but that they in fact have unique qualities that need to be developed further.

The words that come to mind that stand out are humility, very strong will, steel-like determination and consistency.

Willem van der Merwe
Professional Business and Life Coach
Future Partners (Pty) Ltd
Acknowledgement:Collins, Jim 2001, “Good to Great – Why some companies make the Leap … and others don’t”
ISBN 9780712676090