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Leadership Development 18 May 2012

The Legacy of Leaders

As ASTD wraps up for another year...

Lynne-Marie Howden reflects on Jim Collins’ keynote at ASTD2012 and finds a new understanding of what it means to be a Level 5 Leader.

Last week I attended the ASTD conference in Denver, Colorado, the largest global exposition for workplace learning and development. It unites people from all over the world, who come together to share their knowledge of our wonderful industry.

Every year as I return to work I find myself reflecting on a few key moments from the conference.
A highlight from this year was the inspirational keynote from author, Jim Collins. You’ll probably be familiar with his pioneering studies on why companies are successful.

For Collins, a central factor of this success is leadership.  If you’ve read his seminal book Good to Great you’ll be familiar with the concept of ‘Level 5 Leaders’. These are leaders who have the humility to recognise the need to be of service as a leader. The calm, unwavering, unassuming nature of many successful leaders is one of the more surprising takeaways from Collins’ work.

I must admit when I’ve read the description of the Level 5 leader in the past, something just didn’t seem right. Yes, I’ve had the pleasure to meet humble, unassuming leaders, but I’ve also seen my fair share of leaders who are flamboyant and quick to voice an opinion, leading their organisations from the front and often dragging their people with them! The miraculous turnaround brought about by Steve Jobs at Apple for example might seem to jar with the portrait of the humble unassuming leader presented  to us by Jim Collins.

What is means to be a Level 5 leader

What became clear as the brilliant keynote unfolded was that I’d misunderstood what it means to be a Level 5 leader. Collins cited leaders like Jobs and Herb Kelleher who had high ego strengths but were not self-serving; their energies are channelled into a cause ‘larger and more enduring than themselves’ – into building an organisation that outlasts them.

This means they are comfortable to hire people more talented than themselves, and are driven to develop the values, purpose and goals of the organisation that will go far beyond their time as part of it. Building a legacy is crucial.

Leaving a lasting legacy

This resonated with me as it was linked to our own presence at ASTD 2012. We invited  visitors to our booth to experience a taster session of Deeper Discovery – a brand new offering from Insights which launches in September this year.

By building on the language of colour energies and helping people explore their potential through archetypes, Deeper Discovery helps individuals and teams reflect on their hopes and fears, and the legacy they wish to leave behind.

As I shake off the post-conference blues, I hope that Insights can play an important role in producing a whole generation of Level 5 leaders.

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