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Humility: A Level 5 Leadership Attribute

Humility: A Level 5 Leadership Attribute

5th July, 2022

I finally caught up with a dear friend yesterday (I will call him Mr. Najeh). After the typical lamenting about how difficult it is to keep in shape and how our joints ache more after exercising (we both recently celebrated our umpteenth birthdays), we started discussing the topic of professional success. Now to me, Mr. Najeh is the archetypical serial successful story. He has built several thriving companies and sits on the board of several others. It seems that everything he touches turns to gold. Yet what strikes me most about Mr. Najeh is not his wealth (you could never tell from the way he dresses or the car he drives), nor his intellect (he is super intelligent but makes everyone around him feel smarter), nor even his charm (he has an uncanny way of always making you feel valuable). No. What strikes me most about Mr. Najeh is his unique humility.

Humility is one of the major attributes of what the author, Jim Collins, calls “Level 5” leadership. In his best-selling book, Good to Great, Collins describes “Level 5” leaders as leaders who “display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will” (Collins, 2006). How do these leaders show personal humility? When the company is successful, “Level 5” leaders always attribute this success to others. They also routinely cite external circumstances and good luck as deciding factors. However, when things are not going well, they will solely blame themselves.

This was what came to mind when Mr. Najeh was talking about the success of his companies. He genuinely believed that the key reason for his success was good fortune: he was lucky to be at the right place at the right time. I wholeheartedly disagree with his assessment. Maybe there was some luck involved. Maybe he did start a company at the right time. Maybe he did start it in the right place. But I also believe one more factor is involved: the right person.

Having the wrong person at the right time and the right place may work in the short term, but rarely will it produce results in the long term. Collins’ research shows that to become habitually successful, “great” organizations need leaders who put their organization and its purpose first. They are the first to take personal responsibility for mistakes and the last to take credit for success. Luck has nothing to do with it.

Sources

Collins, J. (2006). Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. Managing Innovation and Change, 234.

About the Author
Mohammed Nayal

Partner

Mr. Mohammed Nayal is a Partner with Meirc Training & Consulting. He holds a bachelor of science degree in systems and control engineering from Case Western Reserve University, a master of science in engineering economic systems from Stanford University, and a master in business administration from the University of California at Berkeley. In addition, Mohammed is a certified business data analyst (CBDA) from the International Institute of Business Analysis and a certified training practitioner (CTP) from the Institute of Performance and Learning. He is currently completing a doctorate in education at the University of Glasgow.

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