Level 5 CEONine years ago (NINE!), I was challenged by a business coach to become a Level 5 CEO.

His exact words were:

It’s time for you to stop being an entrepreneur and become a level 5 CEO.

I remember, at the time, asking myself a bunch of questions.

  • What does being a Level 5 CEO mean?
  • What kinds of traits, skills, and knowledge do I need to become a Level 5 CEO?
  • Do I need to be a Jack Welch or Steve Jobs? If yes, what does that look like?
  • Beside Bill Gates and Michael Dell, who are some great Level 5 CEOs? And what makes them so?

(He also didn’t say, “Read Jim Collins. He’ll teach you what you need to know.” I had to figure that one out on my own.)

Fast forward to today and I haven’t necessarily stopped being an entrepreneur.

But I also have read Good to Great and Built to Last so now I at least know what a Level 5 CEO is.

Level 5 refers to the peak of a hierarchy of leadership characteristics.

Both of Jim Collins’s books mentioned above teach CEOs how to achieve “tip top” leadership status.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop being an entrepreneur.

It means you need to learn how to work with the smart people around you to scale a business.

In some cases, that does require you to stop thinking—and acting—like an entrepreneur.

In others, it’s perfectly fine to keep your flexible and nimble qualities.

How to Become a Level 5 CEO

To become a Level 5 CEO, you must:

  • Surround yourself with super smart people—and listen to them
  • Let the super smart people with whom you already work to do their jobs and then some
  • Stop feeling guilty about delegating
  • Give up control
  • Coach, coach, coach…and don’t get flustered or frustrated when someone doesn’t “get” it initially
  • Hire slowly…and spend a lot of time making the decision to be sure everyone fits your culture
  • Stop doing things that don’t make the company money (Garrett Moon calls this 10X marketing)
  • Stop feeling guilty for working non-business hours in favor of exercise or running kids around or whatever suits your fancy
  • Inspire people by leading by example
  • Develop and grow people to take over your job someday
  • Spend time every day thinking, reading, and being creative
  • Spend more time outside of the office marketing the company
  • Make it rain every day
  • Communicate the vision every day
  • Hold people accountable
  • Position the company for growth and customer retention

What if I’m Not a CEO?

There are a lot of things in this list that don’t necessarily equate to no longer being an entrepreneur.

Au contraire.

There are great advantages to leading as an entrepreneur, just as there are to being a Level 5 CEO.

The list above combines the best of both worlds.

But what if you’re not a CEO, don’t want to be, or never will be?

You can take this list and become a Level 5 team member.

The CEO should not be the only one trying to reach Level 5 status.

Even an intern can (and should) possess leadership qualities.

Stop doing things that don’t make the company money? All employees should practice this one.

Spend time daily thinking, reading, and being creative? Rinse and repeat.

You get the idea.

Four Ways to Become a Level 5 Team Member

  • Push yourself. Push yourself to learn a new skill, fill gaps where you can learn more, and continue to define your strengths and improve your weaknesses.
  • Be innovative. Do not underestimate the unique knowledge and perspective you bring to the table. Suggest a new project. Speak up.
  • Inspire colleagues. Motivate and encourage!
  • Go beyond the “8 to 5”. Leaders network with community members and other industry professionals whenever the opportunity arises.

Do not let a title discourage you from believing that you can change and strengthen your company from where you sit.

Interviewing for Level 5 Team Members

So what if your company is run by Level 5 team members and your biggest challenge now is to add more to the team?

That’s great! As you conduct interviews, don’t interview people—interview leaders.

Look for the people who have leadership skills in various areas; areas that complement where you have weaknesses on the team.

Because not everyone is a leader in everything.

So, what should you look for?

  • If the person pushes him or herself to learn more. If they do, how so?
  • What they read and what they subscribe to daily.
  • Which conferences they attend and what they’ve learned.
  • Examples of times they’ve been innovative and creative.
  • Examples of when their creative ideas have been squashed and how they’ve handled it.
  • Whether or not they are self-motivated, driven, and a self-starter.
  • Whether or not they “steal” their colleagues’ ideas as their own.
  • How they inspire the people above, at your level, and below them.
  • What they do very first thing when they go to a networking event.
  • Whether or not they’re involved in your industry organizations.
  • Examples of taking one for the team or sticking up for a colleague.
  • How they handle conflict.
  • Examples of when they’re asked for additional responsibility.

This may seem like a crazy long list, but I can tell you what this kind of stuff tells us:

  1. They’re continually learning if they read and subscribe to blog posts, articles, videos, and podcasts. They also know how those things work in real-life and can apply learnings to the work we do for clients.
  2. They will always want more responsibility if they attend conferences, networking events, and are involved in the industry organizations. We also know they’ll be able to make it rain through networking.
  3. They aren’t a believer in the 9 to 5 day if they participate online through blogging, social media, podcasting, and more.
  4. What kind of communication skills they have if they can give examples of how they handle conflict and taking one for the team.

These are the types of things that allow you to hire Level 5 team members.

What Other Qualities Breed Level 5 Effectiveness?

Whether you are a Level 5 CEO or a Level 5 team member, it’s important to keep honing those skills.

It’s incredibly easy to get comfortable, but that breeds laziness and lack of accountability.

Set a goal for yourself to focus on one Level 5 attribute every week. Make it a habit and move on to the next.

By the end of this year, I guarantee you’ll be a completely different business professional.

Now it’s your turn. What other qualities breed Level 5 effectiveness?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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