Level 5 Leadership

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Originally published January 2005.

Over the summer I read Good to Great by Jim Collins.  This is a huge bestseller being read by many with business minds because the author covers extensive research as to what helped businesses go from just being good to being great.  I thought the book might have some principles to help youth leaders take their youth group from good to great.  You just never know where you may get a nugget of truth and this book was full of them.  

Understand first though that I am not one of those who thinks the church should be run like a business.  The finances should be run as tight as a business but not much else.  The church is described as the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the Fellowship of Believers, etc., all of which are too emotionally personal for the church to be run as a business.  You personally may have experienced the loss of friendliness in a church that is run like a business.  I personally don't like it so I'm not advocating that here at all.

Also, the Holy Spirit is not covered in this book.  Thankfully we have the unpredictable Wild Frontier factor of the Holy Spirit who works with us and sometimes in spite of us.  As Steve Gerali, director of the Youth Ministry Undergraduate Degree program at Azusa Pacific University wrote for Youthworker Journal, "There isn't much that we can do to enhance what God is doing, and there isn't much that we can do to mess it up either.  God is in total control of the results.  Oh, sweet freedom!"  (March/April 2004)

The nugget of truth I want to share with you is something Jim Collins calls Level 5 Leadership.  Level 5 Leadership is briefly defined as an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.  At first those descriptions seem to be in conflict with each other or oxymoronic yet the research proved otherwise.  This type of leader can and does exist and does produce great things.

Having intense professional will is something I believe (particularly from what I see) is quite common among youth workers.  We love what we do.  As for extreme persona humility, I don't see that as much.  It would be a good idea to post those words over your keyboard screen and on your bathroom mirror and possibly in your car to remind yourself to be that.  It is not so easy.  I know.  But the combination together does challenge me to try to be a Level 5 Leader.  

A Level 5 leader is one who wants to see the company, or your youth group, be even more successful in the next generation.  When you eventually leave your position, will the youth group fall apart or will it continue on without skipping a beat or will it even get better?  It is hard to see into the future to know for sure but you can surely put plans into place now so that the program (yes, we do run youth ministry programs) continues on successfully without you being in the center of everything.  What can you do now to get you out of the center of everything?  I realize that you are in your position to lead the youth ministry but that does not mean to be the center of everything.  That is not being a Level 5 Leader. A Level 5 leader builds for the next generation to be successful.

Straight from the author, "Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well.  At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly...  Everyone outside the window points inside, directly at the Level 5 leader, saying, ‘He was the key; without his guidance and leadership, we would not have become a great company.'  And the Level 5 leader points right back out the window and says, ‘Look at all the great people and good fortune that made this possible; I'm a lucky guy.'" (page 35)  We know to credit the Holy Spirit and those wonderful leaders and hopefully the many parents who surround you.  But this also means we are to never blame the senior pastor, the elders, the parents, etc.  A Level 5 leader doesn't do that.

"Level 5 leaders never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes.  They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons.  They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results." (page 28)  With the help of the Holy Spirit, you can be a Level 5 leader being an ordinary person quietly producing extraordinary results.  Unreachable icon is hardly the description any youth leader wants but sometimes when the program is centered on you, that is what you get indirectly.

Another characteristic of Level 5 leaders are that they are fanatically driven and are infected with an incurable need to produce results.  I took that word fanatically straight from the book.  Who here has not been called fanatical by someone in their church?  I'd say we are fanatically driven because of the consuming call on our lives leaves us infected with an incurable need to produce results.  That is why we have sleepless nights and accept low pay.  That is why we find loving teenagers so rewarding.  This is also a characteristic of a Level 5 leader.

The last characteristic I want to address is this: Level 5 leaders "act with quiet calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate." (page 36)  Inspiring charisma wears off.  In my 24 years of youth ministry, I have seen many charismatic leaders wear off and burn out.  Many.  But more importantly I know several youth leaders who have a quiet and calm determination.  I find also that it is no coincidence that they have been at their church for ten to twenty years.  They are Level 5 leaders and I salute them.  What an honor they are to have in our youth ministry world.  You need to find one and "sit at their feet" to gain knowledge.  You will find them to not be unreachable icons.  

One last thought before I leave the book knowledge I learned:  "Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.  To quickly grasp this concept, think of United States President Abraham Lincoln (one of the few Level 5 presidents in United States history), who never let his ego get in the way of his primary ambition for the larger cause of an enduring great nation.  Yet those who mistook Mr. Lincoln's personal modesty, shy nature, and awkward manner as signs of weakness found themselves terribly mistaken."  Sounds a lot like Jesus too.  

If you do read this chapter, you won't find a "top ten list" on how to become a Level 5 leader.  This book just analyzes empirical data.  However I believe you can become a Level 5 leader with the help of the Holy Spirit molding you and educating yourself with nuggets like this into being more like Jesus, who was a Level 5 leader.