On Level 5 Leadership: I’d Rather Be Beck Than Kanye

By Paul Teshima in Leadership

Author’s Disclaimer: I love music, and love musicians.  And I love both Beck and Kanye’s music.  But Beck for me goes way back to the very first time I heard his “one-hit-wonder” Loser, to the incredible mash-up of It’s All Over Baby Blue by Them (originally by Dylan) in his song Jack-Ass, and now 16 albums later, with Morning Phase, he is still producing great songs like the wonderful, and soulful Heart is a Drum.

Many of you already know about Kanye’s fourth attempt to discredit an artist during the 2015 Grammy’s award show last Sunday night.  Although his most famous incident is during the 2009 MTV Video Awards, when he grabbed the mic away from Taylor Swift to declare Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” the true winner, this time he took on Beck, a long standing and critically acclaimed artist with 16 nominations and 5 Grammys to his name.

If you look at the tale of the tape, you could easily argue that Kanye has had much more success than Beck.  He has sold more records with fewer albums, he has made more money.  And despite the fact that many believe it is Kanye who is disrespecting artistry (like in Shirley Manson’s open letter), I think there is another lesson in this situation.  It’s about leadership.

Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve

Chapter 5 of Jim Collin’s iconic management book “Good to Great“, talks about the traits of great leaders after examining 1,435 companies and their performance over a period of 40 years.

What he found was that in all cases where a company was taken from good-to-great, they had a Level 5 Leader at the helm.  What is a Level 5 Leader?  This is how Collins defines the hierarchy.

The Level 5 leader sits on top of a hierarchy of capabilities and is, according to our research, a necessary requirement for transforming an organization from good to great. But what lies beneath? Four other layers, each one appropriate in its own right but none with the power of Level 5. Individuals do not need to proceed sequentially through each level of the hierarchy to reach the top, but to be a full-fledged Level 5 requires the capabilities of all the lower levels, plus the special characteristics of Level 5.

Level 5 – Executive

Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.

Level 4 – Effective Leader

Catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high performance standards.

Level 3 – Competent Manager

Organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.

Level 2 – Contributing Team Member

Contributes to the achievement of group objectives; works effectively with others in a group setting.

Level 1 – Highly Capable Individual

Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits.

Collins then gives specific examples of how this style of leadership, humble, yet a determined, almost stoic resolve to succeed is the most important quality in great leaders.  And this is counterintuitive to what people assume you need in a top CEO or leader.  They need to be brash, have bigger than life personalities. But can this bold style work?  Maybe, but the research shows more often than not, it is the Level 5 Leader who ultimately is more successful.

When I think about Beck and Kanye, both are very successful musicians, and have certainly showed leadership in many different ways.  But I do believe Kanye is the classic example of what many expect in great leaders – that strong, big personality, that needs to be the center of attention.  While Beck is the opposite, (not-so) quietly plugging away for 21 years with a (stoic) determination to be the best musician he can be, all the while being humble.

No question in my mind, as I think about what type of leader I want to be, it’s Beck not Kanye.

And what did Beck have to say about the whole Kanye incident?

“I was just so excited he was coming up,” he told US Weekly during the Universal Music Group after-party. “[West] deserves to be onstage as much as anybody. How many great records has he put out in the last five years, right?”

Paul Teshima
CEO and Co-founder