“Servant leadership” and “Level 5 leadership” – are these terms related?
I believe they are.
Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term “servant leadership” in his 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader. Greenleaf is considered the founder of the modern servant leadership movement. He inspired a subsequent generation of leadership thinkers and writers.
Jim Collins is one of those influenced by Greenleaf. Collins is the author of several best-selling business books, including Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t.
In Good to Great, Collins and his research team studied over 1,400 businesses looking for what distinguished the great ones. The team found that the truly great businesses had a special type of leader at the helm.
Collins uses the term “Level 5 leader” to describe that person. According to Collins, “Level 5 leaders blend a paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will.”
“It is very important to grasp that Level 5 leadership is not just about humility and modesty. It is equally about ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great.
Indeed, we debated for a long time on the research team about how to describe the good-to-great leaders. Initially, we penciled in terms like ‘selfless executive’ and ‘servant leader. But members of the team violently objected to these characterizations.
‘Those labels don’t ring true,’ said [team member] Anthony Chirikos. ‘It makes them sound weak or meek…’
Then [team member] Eve Li suggested, ‘Why don’t we just call them Level 5 leaders? If we put a label like ‘selfless’ or ‘servant’ on them, people will get the entirely wrong idea. . . If you only get the humility side, you miss the whole idea.’
Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven [Collins concludes], infected by an incurable need to produce results.”
In my view, there is nothing “weak or meek” about servant-leadership. Servant-leaders certainly produce results.
True, some people place more emphasis on the “servant” side and less emphasis on the “leader” side of the term, “servant-leader.” But Greenleaf intended that both sides be balanced and combined – that’s why he used a hyphen to make two words into one.
I believe that a Level 5 leader is inevitably a servant-leader and a servant-leader is inevitably a Level 5 leader.
Because he was writing specifically for a business audience, I can appreciate why Collins chose the latter term. But I think he would have been understood just as well had he chosen the former.
What do you think? Would it better to talk about “Level 5 leadership” instead of “servant leadership”? Are the terms interchangeable? How do you compare them?
Let us know.
As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!
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