2006: Issue 24
Level 5 Living
In the frequently referenced book Good to Great, Jim Collins presents the concept of Level 5 leadership as the pinnacle in a hierarchy of executive capabilities:
His contention is that companies which have sustained greatness over time have had CEOs who are Level 5 Executives: “build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” And provides additional distinction in the following:
Recently I took the opportunity to watch an interview of Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, whose name I had seen often at the top of the lists of America’s wealthiest, but a man I knew little about. He also is the man who some say “stunned” the country when he announced in July of 2006 that he would give away his fortune, worth billions of dollars, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in their mission to reduce the inherent inequities in our world.
While Jim Collins did not mention him in his book, Warren Buffet exemplifies the attributes of a Level 5 leader and furthermore, if you extrapolate these qualities to the greater arena of life, he exemplifies what I now refer to as Level 5 living. Let me share with you a few reasons why.
Mr. Buffett states in his interviews some version of “I love what I do.” “It is my passion.” “I enjoy going to work.” You can see in his face and hear in his tone his sincerity. He doesn’t have to elaborate for you to know that when that feeling stops, he will to, and move on to something else he loves. When evaluating companies for investment/purchase, he looks for CEOs/Managers who have a passion for what they do, believing that is an essential quality in order to optimize the success of any company. Given his track record, I’d say he has a valid point.
He knew early on in his life that he would accumulate wealth, and he and his wife made a conscious decision that they would give it back to society –the place from whence it came. To that end, they set up their own foundation in the early 1960’s, seeing it as the vehicle to distribute the monies. And what changed his mind is an example of another attribute of Level 5 leadership and living….he found someone who was already doing it well, with whom he was in synch with their purpose and values, and he saw no need to replicate it. Putting it simply, he found another vehicle to reach his goal, “what can be more logical, in whatever you want done, than finding someone better equipped than you are to do it?” (A conversation with Warren Buffett, FORTUNE Magazine, June 25, 2006) He had a purpose, a goal and a plan, and the willingness to be flexible and modify it for the greater good of the whole.
Warren Buffett is also comfortable publicly acknowledging his mistakes. In Berkshire Hathaway’s annual reports, he frequently cites the mistakes that the company made during the year, accepting full responsibility for them, and going onto explain what he learned from them. Exhibiting confidence and humility, minimizing arrogance.
Perhaps what is most striking, particularly in today’s era of “make more spend more”, Mr. Buffett leads a relatively simplistic life, citing his one extravagance as a private jet. He has lived in the same house for 30+ years in Omaha Nebraska. He drives his own car, shops for himself, and claims his ideal evening is spent in the comfort of his own home, watching a ball game and eating popcorn. He truly could buy anything he wants, and he has chosen to keep those wants simplistic, believing that accumulating material things would simply complicate his life and thus, risk his satisfaction.
And finally, Mr. Buffett embraces generosity. Criticized in the past for not giving away money fast enough, his plan was to maximize his accumulation, believing that as the value of the money grew so would the potential for the good that could be done with it.
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