Humility + Will = Level 5

Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce results. They will sell the mills or fire their brother, if that’s what it takes to make the company great.

I was sharing notes with a Venture Capital partner recently. He asked an insightful question regarding Level 5 leadership. For those who have read Jim Collins’ Good to Great will remember that the term Level 5 refers to the highest level in a hierarchy of executive capabilities that Jim Collins and his team identified in their research.

Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.

Level 1: Highly Capable Individual

At this level, you make high quality contributions with your work. You possess useful levels of knowledge; and you have the talent and skills needed to do a good job. [This is the minimum to be hired into the role.]

Level 2: Contributing Team Member

At Level 2, you use your knowledge and skills to help your team succeed. You work effectively, productively and successfully with other people in your group. [Many CEOs use this as the minimum bar for hiring, since it’s a requirement for high-performing team.]

Level 3: Competent Manager

Here, you’re able to organize a group effectively to achieve specific goals and objectives. [Personally, I think team alignment begins with Level 3, since knowing what you AND your team is working on at any given time, is what makes the difference between efficient or not as a team.]

Level 4: Effective Leader

Level 4 is the category that most top leaders fall into. Here, you’re able to galvanize a department or organization to meet performance objectives and achieve a vision. [Even if your senior leadership is aligned, how many of them push that alignment down into their respective organizations? I find that Level 4 requires “fine-tuning” with either changes to the team and/or “hard love”, with many skip-levels that “trust but verify” whether the organization is galvanized.]

Level 5: Great Leader

At Level 5, you have all of the abilities needed for the other four levels, plus you have the unique blend of humility and will that’s required for true greatness. [“Modest and willful, humble and fearless” – never let your ego get in the way of your primary ambition. It’s not about you. It’s about ambition first and foremost for the company and concern for its success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.]

Jim Kaskade

Jim Kaskade is a serial entrepreneur & enterprise software executive of over 35 years. He recently successfully exited a PE-backed SaaS company, Janrain, in the digital identity security space. He started his career engineering massively parallel processing datacenter applications. Prior to identity, he led a digital application business of over 7,000 people ($1B). Prior to that he led a big data & analytics business of over 1,000 ($250M). He was the CEO of a Big Data Cloud company ($50M); was an EIR at PARC (the Bell Labs of Silicon Valley) which resulted in a spinout of an AML AI company; led two separate private cloud software startups; founded of one of the most advanced digital video SaaS companies delivering online and wireless solutions to over 10,000 enterprises; and was involved with three semiconductor startups (two of which he founded, one of which he sold). Jim has an Electrical and Computer Science Engineering degree from University of California, Santa Barbara, with an emphasis in semiconductor design and computer science; and an MBA from the University of San Diego with an emphasis in entrepreneurship and finance.

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