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How L5 Relational Leaders Think

The books “Good to Great” and “Tribal Leadership” define five different levels of leadership, with L5 being the most advanced level. The authors of Tribal Leadership describe L5 thinking by the theme “life is great” and by the mood “innocent wonderment.” In their study of corporate cultures they found that only two percent of companies reach L5 thinking.

L5 thinking happens when leaders overcome their fear of failure and join together on a mission to create products and solutions that will make the planet a better place to live. The scientists of Amgen began to live into this mindset when they decided that they would join together to cure a particular strain of cancer no matter who they needed to collaborate with.

L5 visionary leaders distinguish themselves from L4 leaders who lead out of the theme “we are great, you are not.” These leaders have strong loyalty to their corporate tribe and live to defeat their competition. This is the very stuff athletic teams often thrive on. The problem with living to beat your competition is that it can stifle innovation and keep the focus of the group from where it belongs: on producing excellent results. The Tribal Leadership authors found that only 22% of companies reach L4 leadership.

The majority of current corporate, educational and professional leadership is still in the “lone warrior” or expert model which touts the theme “I am great and you are not.” This is the hierarchical top-down leadership found in law firms, medicine and religious institutions that keeps a small number of people making decisions for the followers. These leaders try to out-work and out-think their competition on an individual basis. These leaders make up 49% of the workforce.

The ascent to L5 thinking requires an internal paradigm shift. In his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” Patrick Lencioni describes this as partnering with other leaders to focus on results, letting go of the fear of conflict, and refusing to let politics motivate our decisions. Rather than hiding behind artificial harmony L5 leaders demand debate among team members to constructively fight together for the best solutions.

This most rare and innovative level of L5 thinking requires the mentality that there is plenty of work for everyone invested in doing it well and that doing work well is a great collaboration of everyone who has the calling, wisdom and passion to achieve excellent results. Great accomplishments happen when we trade scarcity for an abundance mindset that permits us to lay down ego and reason together to achieve great enduring results.


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