In his groundbreaking book Good to Great, Jim Collins introduced the world to the concept of “Level 5 Leadership.”

At the time, I was five years into my tenure as CEO of a fledgling social purpose

real estate venture known as More Than A Roof. 

This concept resonated deeply and made an indelible impression on me.

I made it my mission to be an ever-learning student and practitioner of Level 5 Leadership.

Here’s how Collins’ 5 Levels are summarised as a quick recap.


Level 1:

You are a competent individual. Your leadership starts with your good individual skills. You make productive contributions through your talent, knowledge, skills, and good working habits.

Level 2:

You are a committed team member. Your leadership involves excellent team skills. You contribute your individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and work effectively with others in a group setting.

Level 3:

You are a competent manager. As a leader, you develop and practice excellent management skills. You organize people and resources to effectively and efficiently pursue predetermined goals.

Level 4:

You are recognized as an effective leader. Your leadership means demonstrating a commitment to and pursuing a clear, compelling vision and stimulating higher performance standards.

Level 5:

You are a top executive. You build enduring greatness at the highest leadership level through a curious blend of personal humility and professional will, becoming the key to creating a great organization.

Here’s the Kicker!

Based on Collins’ extensive research, organizations spearheaded by Level 5 leaders consistently outperform their sector by a margin of three to one over time.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that kind of result?


The Professional Leader Vs. Amateur Difference 

Based on all the above, here are some hallmarks of Level 5 Professionalism 


Personal Humility vs. Ego-Driven Leadership

Level 5 leaders have earned and learned a measure of personal humility. In fact, they are known for their humility. They credit others and external factors for success while taking personal responsibility for failures.

They recognize that they don’t know what they don’t know, and this humility is blended with intense professional will.

This particular combination of qualities fosters a genuineness that shines through and attracts people to a cause.

I’ve found that true pros do not aspire to become larger-than-life personalities or unreachable icons.

On the other hand, amateur leaders often rely on a more ego-driven, self-serving style that is all about personal recognition and credit.

Focus on Lasting Legacy vs. Short-Term Results

Level 5 pros aim to create a lasting legacy and work towards the organization’s long-term success. It’s a bigger vision that will carry over and continue to grow after their departure.

They foster an organizational culture that supports the long-term vision.

Amateurs often have a default mindset that relies on personal gain or short-term wins that serve a personal agenda.

While there certainly are situations that call for immediate short-term results, having that as a primary strategy doesn’t work.

Developing Successors vs. Maintaining Power

Level 5 leaders select and develop superb successors, wanting their organization to become even more successful well into the future. Succession planning and consistent leadership development are top of mind.

Other leaders may focus more on maintaining their power and influence within the organization.

Beyond these broad-stroke Level 5 mindsets and approaches, there are innumerable Amateur Vs Professional Comparisons.

 Curated from a Farnham Street Blog

 Here are some of my favourites :

  • Amateurs focus on dividing the pie. Professionals focus on growing the pie.
  • Amateurs stop when they achieve something. Professionals understand that the initial achievement is just a launchpad for the next step.
  • Amateurs are reactive. Professionals are proactive.
  • Amateurs want to win the moment. Professionals want to win the decade.
  • Amateurs wait for someone to recognize their positional, tap them on the shoulder, and give them an ample opportunity. Professionals go show people what they are capable of with no expectations.
  • Amateurs are kind-of -in. Professionals are all-in.
  • Amateurs focus on the outcome. Professionals focus on the process.
  • Amateurs believe they are good at everything. Professionals understand their circle of competence.
  • Amateurs see feedback and coaching as someone criticizing who they are. Professionals know they have blind spots and seek out thoughtful criticism.
  • Amateurs value doing it once. Professionals value doing it consistently.
  • Amateurs rely on willpower. Professionals focus on creating an environment that turns desired behaviours into success habits.
  • Amateurs wait until they feel like it. Professionals do it when they don’t feel like it.
  • Amateurs show up to practice to have fun. Professionals realize that what happens in practice happens in games.
  • Amateurs focus on identifying their weaknesses and improving them. Professionals focus on their strengths and partnering with people who are strong where they are weak.
  • Amateurs predict. Professionals position.
  • Amateurs think knowledge is power. Professionals pass on wisdom and advice.
  • Amateurs focus on being right. Professionals focus on obtaining the best outcomes
  • Amateurs worry about what they see. Professionals worry about what they can’t see.
  • Amateurs focus on expedience. Professionals know that haste can make waste.
  • Amateurs focus on the short term. Professionals focus on the long-term.

Amateurs focus on putting other people down. Professionals focus on making everyone better.

Professionalism In Leadership Summary

To summarize, Level 5 Leadership over time cultivates a culture of success and innovation, fosters excellence, promotes responsibility and accountability and wins loyalty.

There you have it!

Until next time.

Questions?  Comments?

Shoot me a note. I read all my emails and respond as I can.




A space where you’ve got to be as adept at giving direction as you are at taking it.”

Unless you’re born into a monarchy leadership role, chances are you’ve been thrown into situations where you find yourself leading from the middle.

Or from the back of the pack for that matter.

It’s leadership without formal authority.

Middle leadership definitely has its pitfalls.

This I learned the hard way at one of my very first jobs. I was a summer student working on a concrete forming crew with a boss that was strong-headed and wrong-headed.

I offered a few well-meaning suggestions in a situation that called for a different approach. Well it got me fired on the spot!


“The first and most important choice a leader makes is the choice to serve, without which one’s capacity to lead is severely limited.” – Robert Greenleaf.


Middle leadership seems to be a rite of passage that every good leader needs to master at some point in a leadership career.

Call it an apprenticeship of sorts.

The Pitfalls of Middle Leadership

Here are a few middle leadership scenarios I’ve encountered with clients.

  • Facing tension due to the ambiguity of their authority and struggling to balance power and authority effectively, worrying about imposter syndrome.
  • Managing time inefficiently -prioritizing their own time over their team’s time, creating a perception of superiority and distance.
  • Mistakenly empowering a subordinate who isn’t ready can create power and bias perceptions, which can demotivate the team and lead to conflicts.
  • Drifting into resentment or cynicism believing that they could “do something better”.

Authentic leadership in the middle is a practice of dual servitude and guidance.

I’ve found the mantra “ Serve up – Coach down” to be a practical approach for middle leaders.

You serve up, providing support to those above you, and you coach down, offering wisdom and encouragement to your team.

It’s about understanding that leadership is not a one-way directive but a multi-directional exchange of service and growth.

 It’s about being a conduit for communication, vision and direction, ensuring that objectives and values cascade down while feedback and insights travel up.

The same principle applies when working with peers.  Coaching sideways is equally important, promoting a culture of shared learning and collective responsibility.

We live in a culture where leadership gets celebrated, discussed, and taught. Being less than a leader may be perceived as something less than.

In reality, there are many more followers than leaders in our organizations. What if we invested as much in learning to follow well as we do in leading well?

What if the reason that many who aspire to lead fail is because they never learned to follow?

For those who want to lead while not in charge, the mindset of following well is a critical factor for success.

Mastering The Middle

Being personable goes a long way in building rapport and connection with team members. Nobody likes a cranky co-worker .

It’s about sharing stories, showing vulnerability, and creating a space where colleagues feel seen and heard.

This personal touch can help turn a group of individuals into a cohesive team.

Focus on actions rather than arguments. “Let’s team up on the problem, not each other!” is a good line when things get heated.

If you lead by example and not just by word, you can inspire change.

You become known as a doer, someone who takes initiative and demonstrate what is possible through action.

Listening to understand is an art that many strive for but few master. I’m still working on this one.

It’s about truly hearing what others are saying. Gaining understanding can guide collective efforts towards a shared goal.

It can be tangible proof of your commitment to your team’s success.

Celebrating the efforts of co-workers isn’t just about acknowledging their contributions.

It’s about recognizing their value to the team and the mission.

It reinforces the idea that everyone plays a crucial role and that leadership is not about standing above others, but standing with them.

Assertiveness is a key trait in this environment. But not in a brash way!

It’s about confidently presenting your ideas and standing firm on your convictions.

There’s a fine line between assertiveness and aggression.

The assertive leader knows this distinction and walks it carefully, especially when dealing with unfamiliar territories or audiences.

Flexibility is also important. While this may seem like it conflicts with the need to be assertive, being too strident or adamant in your beliefs will work against you.

You may need to “flex your style” to be a bit more accommodating.

You don’t want to come across as a stubborn, immovable monolith, incapable of believing in anyone other than yourself.

Humility is the silent partner of confidence.

It’s the acknowledgment that while your ideas have value, they can be enhanced by the perspectives of others.

This blend of confidence and humility wins support of others and fosters an environment where collaboration thrives.

Build trust by being relentlessly consistent and reliable with everyone. (direct reports, peers and superiors)

Servant leadership is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. In that situation, they don’t work for you; you work for them.” Ken Blanchard 

Seeds of Opportunity 

Many of us have seasons of work where we might feel undervalued.

Working beneath our capacity.

Yes, you may get frustrated when your voice isn’t heard or get impatient when things take too long.

Have you ever considered that current circumstances are teaching and preparing you for things to come?

The seeds of opportunity always lie in the present, so use the present wisely in order to prepare for more.

In Conclusion 

Leading when not in charge is about being trustworthy, reliable, assertive yet humble, flexible, personable, action-oriented, a good listener, and a team player.

These qualities ensure that your leadership by example is felt and followed.

It’s about serving upward, coaching downward, and collaborating sideways.

It comes with the understanding that everyone, at every level, is both a leader and a learner.

Until next time.

 My “getting fired” story is here.

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