As described by the Professor Jim Collins, a level-5 leader is the highest level of leader who cares more about his team or organization than his own personal gain. I differ with the professor in the idea that some people will never possess the ability to become level-5s, I think anyone achieve this level if they adopt key behaviors.

Behavior 1: Truthful self evaluation. People that cannot see themselves as others do will have a very tough time becoming self-aware enough to achieve level-5. You’ll need to acknowledge some hard truths. Have you been hiring or gathering people around you simply because they agree with you? Do you dismiss other people’s ideas without study, research or further questioning? Do you get upset when someone disagrees with your ideas? Are you dismissive of others thoughts or strategic ideas? Do “hear someone out” just so they’ll “feel better” and you can proceed with your own strategy? If you answered yes to any of these, you’re not a level-5 leader.

If you enjoy being around people that give you a good argument, like learning new ideas and strategies, and purposely surround yourself with people that make you better – you’re on your way!

Behavior 2: Ask questions, don’t dismiss. When Copernicus said the Sun was the center of the universe he got a medieval bitch-slap. It’s easier to be dismissive than to ask questions about a person’s theory. That junior agent’s crazy marketing strategy may be worth something, but until you ask questions, you won’t know for sure. “What steps are involved in executing this plan?” “How much will it cost?” “How long will it take?” “How many people will you need?” “What’s the potential return on investment?” “How do you think it will turn out?” “What’s the desired end result?”

Whoever is pitching you a strategy should be able to answer these questions, if he can’t, ask him to think about it and re-pitch later. Showing that you’re interested in everyone’s ideas (as long as they’re well thought out) is a great way to engage your team or employees, making them passionate about the overall strategy. When people see you’re listening, they are likely to get a few great ideas from unexpected sources like receptionists and accountants. Being dismissive and condensing will stifle growth and hurt moral, so be very aware of your own tone and actions.

Behavior 3: Give credit to everyone but yourself. Level-5 leaders look out the window and point to their team and employees for a job well done while a “big dog” level-4 will congratulate himself on “motivating his team”. Giving credit to your employees is another way to keep them motivated and encouraging them to do better.

Behavior 4: Take responsibility for bad times. Level-5 leaders will take personal responsibility for things gone wrong. Even if the fault lies with one of their employees, a level-5 leader will acknowledge that he should have noticed this person struggle and stepped in to help or reassign the activity. As a leader, pointing and blaming will get you nowhere.

Behavior 5: Simplify the complex. One goal to rule them all. A broker may want to assign a “quota” to each agent (Close $X by Dec. 2015 or you’re not paying for yourself) while a team leader may have a different goal (obtain 15 new, quality leads per month). But the “one goal to rule them all” must be consistent throughout the company or team. Everyone should be striving towards a single goal.

Each agent is independent, why would an overall goal help? When each agent can ask himself, “Will this action help me reach this goal?” he is officially self-governed. As long as he can ask himself that question and answer honestly, he won’t need you breathing down his neck. Agents may resist the “one goal” at first, but eventually they’ll see the benefits of focusing on a single goal in their own strategies.

Behavior 6: Creating a culture of discipline. This doesn’t mean strict rule enforcement or killing casual Fridays. Instead, consider that great companies and teams need an entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of discipline. What the heck does that mean? When everyone knows one, common goal (I.E. Close $X by Dec. 2015) every action and strategy your team takes should be focused on obtaining that one goal. So when your team or agent comes to you with, “I need a CoStar subscription to be successful.” You can point back to the “one goal” – asking how exactly the wanted item or service will help them achieve the “one goal”. Your decision on provide funding for their venture will be based on their answers from your Behavior 2 questions.


Should an individual sales agent strive to be level-5 leaders?

There is no reason an individual sales agent needs to become a level-5 leader. If your business model is to make money as an independent agent without leading a team, you may find that taking the time and energy to make yourself a level-5 leader is pointless. Actually, “big dog” level-4s tend to make more money than the self-sacrificing level-5s, so don’t beat yourself up over the label. If you’re not responsible for the well being of a company or a team, embrace your “big dog” mentality!