In his famous work, Good to Great, Jim Collins coined the phrase “level five leader.” The leaders Collins wrote about were ones who were fiercely and boldly committed to the mission of those they led but simultaneously humble. Humility and boldness can and must coexist in a leader’s life. Collins described the level five leaders as being interested, not focused on being interesting. They were passionately curious, always learning, always seeking what was best for the organization. They were not self-consumed and preoccupied with being perceived as interesting and genius.
How can we spot someone on our teams who is genuinely interested and not focused on being interesting? Here are four ways:
1. They ask questions to learn, not to make statements.
Not every question is really a question; sometimes it is a statement. Interested leaders ask questions to learn, not merely to make statements. If you see someone who is inquisitive and hungry to learn, you are likely observing someone who is interested and not trying to prove himself or herself interesting.
2. They read outside their discipline.
Many have articulated that breakthrough learning often comes with insight outside one’s discipline. An interested leader enjoys reading on a variety of subjects while applying learning to his or her own craft.
3. They sometimes have to apologize for getting in the weeds.
When someone apologizes for “getting too detailed” or “asking too many questions” or “getting too involved in the weeds,” I find it refreshing for two reasons: (1) The person is showing some awareness to how all the questions could be perceived and (2) the person is not above the work, and wants to learn it firsthand.
4. They love tackling new assignments.
Leaders who want to grow love tackling new assignments because of the new learning that awaits them. Interested leaders are addicted to learning new things and a new assignment provides great education and challenges.
Interested over interesting makes a much greater leader. Collins, I believe, was right. It is far better to have people on your team who are interested than it is people who are constantly worrying about being interesting.