It’s been almost 10 years since Jim Collins published his almost instant classic, “Good to Great.” I read it very soon after it was published, when I was working in a very large organization. Certainly Collins’ research applied to a mainstream work environment; my question now, nine years later, is how does it apply to the entrepreneur or solopreneur?
I’m going to spend the next few weeks exploring “Good to Great” from an entrepreneurial perspective. Today’s post starts off with one of my favorite findings in the book, Level 5 Leadership.
Why is that one such a favorite? Because it provides concrete evidence that introverts can be extraordinary leaders.
A Level 5 Leader is characterized by Collins and his team as embodying “a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves.”
They also “display compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated.” Other words that describe Level 5 Leaders include quiet, dogged, humble, shy, reserved, modest, gracious, calm, shares or deflects the credit…
Do those words sound familiar?
They should, because they are often the traits associated with introverts!
Collins never uses the word “introvert” to describe them; that would be making assumptions about something that is rather complex. Regardless, his studies show a compelling consistency of introverted traits showing up in Level 5 Leaders.
In fact, he found that those who were more traditionally thought to be CEO material – charismatic, outspoken, ego-centric and self-important – actually did more harm than good to a company. I am NOT going out on a limb to say those folks were all extroverts; that would be a dangerous assumption. It is, however, safe to say that having a larger-than-life personality does not automatically translate into great leadership. According to Collins, it’s the plow horse – rather than the show horse – who has a more successful track record.
What does this mean for the Introvert Entrepreneur?
We have high potential to cultivate and lead at Level 5. As entrepreneurs, we are leaders – of ideas, projects, movements, tribes. We may not have a team of employees or managers, or have a big corner office. Instead, we lead something more important: ourselves. When we think of ourselves as Leaders, we carry ourselves differently. We are more intentional, strategic and collaborative. Our influence manifests as being viewed as thought leaders among our peers and in our industry. Our presence is a quiet and persistent force that moves ideas forward.
As entrepreneurs, we will succeed by embracing Level 5 traits: quiet, calm determination. Ambition for the company (mission/vision/tribe), not self. Unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done. Looks in the mirror when responsibility needs to be taken, and through the window when credit must be given. Fanatical drive to produce superb and sustainable results.
These are characteristics that support being in business for the long haul. And I believe that as introverts, there’s enough about entrepreneurship (networking, selling, self-promotion, etc) that if we didn’t believe passionately in what we’re doing, we’d be very justified in taking a relatively easier, more traditional path.
Yet we chose this one. Because we are leaders… because we have passion… because we’re ready to do the work that does good in the world.
To consider: What do you think? Do introverts make good leaders? Why or why not? What opportunities do entrepreneurs have to be Level 5 Leaders?