Most leaders who reach the pinnacle do so later in their careers; however, this level is not a resting place for leaders to stop and view their successes. Instead, it is a reproducing place from which they can make the greatest impact of their lives. Level 5 leaders, or pinnacle leaders, strive to lift up as many leaders as they can, tackle as many great challenges as possible, and extend their influences beyond their own organizations and industries.
General Electric is often cited as a top-ten organization for leaders. For many years it was led by Jack Welch, a Level 5 leader, who emphasized developing other leaders to become Level 4 leaders — or leaders who produce other leaders. Level 5 leaders like Welch can cross lines out of their areas of expertise to speak with authority. People respect them for who they are and what they represent. They often advance the cause of leadership, redefine it, and pour themselves into the next generation of leaders.
The Downside of the Pinnacle
One of the greatest dangers for pinnacle leaders is thinking they have “arrived.” No matter how good they have been in the past, they still need to strategize, weigh decisions, plan, and execute at a very high level. Their leadership momentum can overcome many problems, but even momentum cannot continually compensate for arrogance or stupidity. Level 5 leaders must not treat their organizations as their personal properties. Leaders cannot make decisions with only their personal interests in mind.
When people excel to a high level, a certain mythology grows up around them. They become larger than life in other people’s minds. However, a Level 5 leader must never forget that he started at the bottom as a positional leader. If he becomes successful, it is only because many other people helped along the way.
Best Behaviors on Level 5
Level 5 leaders make room at the top for other leaders. This creates a cycle of positive change in an organization by increasing its size and power. Level 5 leaders also aggressively give power away to other leaders. This comes from their ability to see people not as they are or as others see them, but as they could be. If there are potential leaders in the organization, Level 5 leaders must dedicate time and effort to mentoring them. The best potential leaders will not remain in the organization unless they are helped to climb up to the next level.
True leaders put their egos aside and strive to create successors who go beyond them. They plan to hand off the baton when they are still running at their peak. Leaders must not hurt their organizations’ momentum by staying too long just for their own personal gratification.
Pinnacle leaders are respected outside of their organizations and industries and have reputations that offer high degrees of credibility. The key is leveraging their abilities for the benefit of others outside their direct spheres of influence.