5/14/2007 -

One of the most influential books on management in past several years is Good To Great, authored by widely respected management expert and teacher, Jim Collins. The book is filled with exciting and innovative ideas and we strongly recommend it to you. Collins offers interesting observations and suggestions on how a good company can make the journey to became a great company, and then go on to sustain that greatness for an extended period of time. Having studied a variety of different companies from this viewpoint, Collins explains and illustrates the characteristics of companies who have reached this goal and provides us with check points to measure our own success.

• Management Style.

One characteristic of a “Good To Great” company is that it includes a specific type of management style he calls a “Level 5 Manager.” According to, “management style” is defined as, “An approach adopted by managers in exercising authority, encouraging participation in decision-making, motivating staff, delegating authority, communicating information and maintaining control.” Various kinds of management styles include (a) authoritarian, (b) hands on, (c) micromanagement, (d) delegation management, (e) management by memo, (f) MBWA (management by walking around) and, as in the classic definition, (g) getting work done through other people. Much of one’s management style has to do with personality temperament, whether one is essentially (1) a hard charging Type A, (2) a people oriented Sanguine, (3) a consistent and stable Phlegmatic or (4) a detail oriented Perfectionist. Your personality temperament (or working style) can be identified through a variety of management assessment tools, most notably the DISC profile. If you would like to know more about the DISC profile and how it can help you and your management team, email me at, and I’ll provide you with the information.

• Two Characteristics of a Level 5 Manager.

According to Collins, an essential characteristic of Good To Great companies is that they are led and managed by Level 5 Managers. Level 5 Managers have two basic characteristics. First, they have a healthy dose of personal humility. They are not overcome with ego and they direct praise and credit to other people, rather than themselves. Non-Level 5 Managers, on the other hand, tend to speak of themselves often and use the personal pronoun “I’ quite a bit, as in, “I did this,” or “Look what I accomplished.” Collins cites one manager who commented, “You know, I really relate to this Rambo character; he reminds me of me.” Level 5 Managers, on the other hand, tend to deflect personal praise and speak more often of the contributions of others, but they do so as a natural part of their character, in a genuine and sincere way, and not out of false modesty. Some of the words used to describe a Level 5 Manager include quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing and understated.

Second, Level 5 Managers have an intense personal will of iron and are willing to do whatever is necessary to bring success to the company. Level 5 Managers are focused on the company, rather than themselves, they are fanatically driven toward company success, and possess a ferocious, unwavering resolve.

• Level 5 Managers and the Parable of the Window and the Mirror.

Level 5 Managers attribute much of their success to “luck,” and they tend to talk about luck quite a bit. They often say, “Well, I was lucky” and they speak of their success as a blessing or of a stroke of good fortune. This is part of the way they steer praise away from themselves and toward others. Non-Level 5 Managers, on the other hand, tend to be blamers. They look for some one or some thing on which to blame their failures, such as the economy, the environment, an incompetent subordinate or some unexpected event. Several years ago, Thomas Harris wrote a book entitled, I’m OK, You’re OK, in which he argued that all blame is useless, a principle with which I’m sure Jim Collins would agree. Here, I’m reminded of the story of the two sales employees who were sent to China to sell shoes. The first one emailed back and said, “No market here, no one wears shoes, I’m coming home.” The second one emailed back and said, “Huge market for shoes here, no one has any, double my order.”

Collins provides us with a fascinating metaphor about Level 5 Managers, when he recounts the parable of the Window and the Mirror. Level 5 Managers have a Window and a Mirror. When the company is successful, they look out of the Window and give the credit for success to others. When things go wrong, they look into the Mirror accept the responsibility.

Non-Level 5 Managers have a Window and a Mirror also, but they do just the opposite with them. When things go well, they look in the Mirror and give themselves the credit. When things go south, they look out the Window and blame others.

• How to Become a Level 5 Manager.

Collins does not tell us how to become a Level 5 Manager, although he thinks that most managers can become one. He does say that some managers can never become Level 5 Managers and these are the ones who may need to get “off the bus,” to use his term. At Seay Management, it seems to me that the following check points might be helpful.

1. Level 5 Managers have both (a) a personal humility and (b) an iron will. These are personality temperament characteristics that are largely hardwired and, if a person does not possess them, he or she is unlikely to acquire them. The DISC profile can be very helpful in identifying these characteristics.

2. Level 5 Managers speak a good deal of “luck” and not so much about outside factors. We can ask ourselves if our conversation includes this kind of philosophy and we can listen to our management team to see if they use these words – luck, good fortune, providence, being at the right place at the right time, etc.

3. Level 5 Managers are not “blamers” and tend not to assign blame to others. To the contrary, they look out of the Window during good times and give credit to others, and they look in the Mirror during times when they need to accept responsibility. For us, individually, we can examine our own management style and see to what purpose we put the Window and the Mirror, and we can check up on our management team, as well.

4. Level 5 Managers would say that “Our most important assets are our good employees.”

5. Level 5 Managers would have continuing management training to reinforce this philosophy.

6. Level 5 Managers would hire only persons who are or who could become Level 5 Managers, as well.

Socrates once commented, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Collins’ book and his insights on Level 5 Managers gives us an opportunity to examine our management lives to see where we stand on the Level 5 Continuum, and then to make plans to move forward and upward from Good to Great. If you would like a presentation on “Level 5 Management” or on Collins’ book Good to Great, contact Sandy Seay at At Seay Management, we are committed to help and are looking forward to talking with you soon.

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