A few months ago I published “The Lost Art of Management” discussing why most people hate their managers and how to be a better manager. The response I got was phenomenal thanks to the Medium community. However, a few of you asked:

"What makes a great leader?"

Many have attempted to answer this age-old question, but it doesn’t seem like there is a secret recipe to great leadership. This is because leaders come in many forms— they are cut from different cloths. But I believe all great leaders have a common thread.

Jim Collins, a renowned management researcher and author of “Good to Great”, discovered that only 11 out of 1,435 Fortune500 companies achieved and sustained greatness— garnering stock returns at least three times the market’s for 15 years after a major transition period. The common thread of these “great” companies is that they each had a Level 5 Leader at the helm.

According to Collins, Level 5 leaders blend the paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will and fierce resolve.

The combination of humility, will, and resolve provides the foundation for creative leadership. Let’s dive into more details about each building block that makes up a level 5 leader in the context of creative leadership.

Personal Humility

Creative Leaders Understand People. Because of their deep personal humility, they often credit others for a job well done. And when things go south, they take the responsibility and blame. It’s this level of humility and selflessness that cultivates loyalty, trust, and empowerment in the organization.

Creative leaders are people-focused. They are great listeners. They welcome unlimited critique from their employees so they can learn to be better. They interact with their team outside of the workplace to understand them better. They prioritize who before what because they know with the right team, they can drive the bus anywhere they want.

Professional Will

Creative Leaders Understand Value. “Innovators work hard to understand exactly what value means to their customers so they can generate and provide it. Value is an emergent property of supplier and consumer; it cannot take place with only one or the other.” — Seth Kahan

Generating value is one of the most important aspects of innovation. Creative leaders understand to achieve greatness, the company must continuously create new, more and better value. Because of their relentless will to enable the future of their companies, they are open to take risks and try new things. They experiment with unconventional ways of solving problems so they can learn from mistakes and iterate to improve for the long-term. This professional will to create value can also be observed through their ability to stand on the front line. Instead of delegating and giving commands like authoritative leaders would, creative leaders lead by example by doing the hard lifting with the team.

Fierce Resolve

Creative Leaders Understand Reality. While creative leaders are humbly guided by an altruistic vision of success based on positive value, they also have the resolve to do whatever it takes to achieve greatness. This resolve is not the same type of resolve seen in traditional leaders. Traditional leaders have the resolve to do whatever that’s necessary to achieve personal gains. Creative leaders, on the other hand, understand reality, and have the unwavering resolve to make difficult and bold decisions that will ultimately decide the survival of the company.

Darwin Smith— CEO at paper-product maker Kimberly-Clark from 1971 to 1991— epitomizes Level 5 leadership. His ferocious resolve was crucial to the rebuilding of Kimberly-Clark, especially when he made the most dramatic decision in the company’s history: sell the mills despite Wall Street’s skepticism . The formerly lackluster Kimberly-Clark became the worldwide leader in its industry, generating stock returns 4.1 greater than general market’s.

Creative leaders are scientists, artists and designers. They are a rare breed among us. They might not carry the same type of charisma you see in celebrity leaders, but they are the ones who will transform a company, an industry or even the world.


This post was originally published on Medium.

Alex Chuang is the managing director at Launch Academy, a co-founder of WeeveIt, the Vancouver ambassador for Sandbox and creator of Emberyl.

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