“What catapults a company from merely good to truly great? A five-year research project searched for the answer to that question, and its discoveries ought to change the way we think about leadership.”[i] —Jim Collins
What advice would you give to someone who desires to lead a successful organization? Are there any truly universal and practical principles that one might pursue? While success is elusive and dependent upon multiple variables, there are some things an aspiring leader can learn and apply to help them chart a course to success. One of those principles has to do with the traits embedded within a leader’s personal character.
In Jim Collin’s article Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve,[ii] the author describes a counterintuitive and countercultural discovery: The most successful companies are not led by leadership celebrities, but rather by individuals who build enduring organizational greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus personal will.
Adding just one of these traits to a leader’s character represents a significant incremental improvement. However, it is in the combination of these traits that synergy is generated toward successful leadership.
What is fascinating about these two traits is that they are generally needed most when the pressure is on. In other words, it is hard to know if one holds these traits until such time that the situation exposes them. Therefore, an aspiring leader must be diligent about practicing these traits in everyday, low pressure, situations. The theory of deliberate practice suggests that ten thousand hours of practice are necessary to become an expert in any given skill. It is this commitment to practice that enables a leader to display humility and perseverance in the most challenging circumstances.
Another interesting fact about these two personal traits is that they are not a contemporary discovery. In back-to-back parables found in Luke 18, Jesus points to these two traits, and offers his listeners the same leadership advice.
This is just one example of Biblical relevance—truly universal and practical principles—in contemporary leadership. God’s Word holds the keys to discovering the characteristics of an effective leader. To be successful, one must uncover these characteristics and apply them to his or her life. What advice would you give to someone who desires to lead a successful organization? Start with suggesting ways to build personal character, beginning with the paradoxical combination of personal humility plus personal will.
- Do you have the two traits to lead a successful organization?
- Of the two—humility and will—which is the most difficult for you to sustain? Why?
- For more insight on the biblical concept of humility, read: What does the Bible say about humility? at Got Ministries.
- See Jim Collins’ website for information on ‘Good to Great’: http://www.jimcollins.com/index.html
[i] Collins, J. (2005). Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve (cover story). Harvard Business Review, 83(7/8), 136-146. Retrieved from http://www.hbr.org (p. 136)
[ii] Collins, J. (2005). Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve (cover story). Harvard Business Review, 83(7/8), 136-146. Retrieved from http://www.hbr.org