The Apprentice and Five Levels of Leadership


One of the most compelling critiques of contemporary business leadership is Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great in which he defines five levels of business leadership.

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Level 1 Leaders

… are Highly Capable people who make ‘productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits.’

Level 2 Leaders

… are Contributing Team Members who contribute ‘individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting.’

Level 3 Leaders

… are Competent Managers who ‘organize people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.’

Level 4 Leaders

… are Effective Leaders who ‘catalyse commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards.’

Level 5 Leaders

… are Executives who ‘build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.’

Personal Humility and Professional Will

Collins’ ‘paradoxical blend’ is not something we see in many Apprentice candidates. In fact most are at pains to describe themselves as charismatic, ruthless and ambitious.

Curiously, Level 5 Leaders are charismatic – but in a very different way. Their calm humility exudes a sense of wisdom and self control. They are ruthlessly determined, it is true, but with a commitment to integrity that means they take great trouble to be fair. And their ambition is not for themselves, but for their business.

Diligence and Details

Level 5 leaders are able to wrestle at length with the details, see through the gloss to the truth and work hard – relentlessly even – to build a business of lasting value. Their outward modesty – few were well known outside their industry – belied a ruthless advocacy for their business.

Built to Last’ was Collins’ earlier book (with Jerry Porras) about what made some companies great.

Collins concludes that each of the ‘good-to-great’ companies he studied was led by a Level 5 leader, but none of the less-successful companies he compared them with were.

The Apprentice: what level of leadership?

Until the Apprentice, one might have characterised Lord Sugar as a Level 5 Leader, but now he courts limelight in a way that Level 5 Leaders never would. Arguably though, he has built his business empire and created a property portfolio that meets all of his material needs and more, so it’s time to have fun.

But what message is he, through the needs of a prime-time TV reality show, sending to young business people? What levels of leadership do we see week after week?

I Leap to the Show’s Defence

Who knows how this series will end? But let’s step back a year and look at how the last series ended.

imageLast season’s winner (I hope this isn’t a spoiler for anyone still working through their over-full video collection) was Stella English. Far from the fluffy charisma bunny, Stella was accused by some peers as dull. But she knew how to focus on the business issues and – uncharacteristically for Apprentice candidates – could manage a team.

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Stella left school with no qualifications, but flourished in a Japanese bank that cannot possibly favour gobby managers with no substance and, interestingly, described herself as ‘like a dog with a bone. I can’t let go.’

Maybe Lord Sugar recognises the value of Level 5 Leadership after all.

That said…

Ellie Reed - The Apprentice Series 7As the voice-over and Lord S keep reminding viewers, this series is different. He is looking for an entrepreneur: not a manager. So he let calm and steady Ellie Reed (‘I’m just a nice person really, but I have got a dark side if somebody treats me badly’) go, alongside Level 0 Poseur Vincent.

Let’s keep watching.

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Management Pocketbooks the Candidates might Enjoy
… or just benefit from!

… hey! Maybe the people who get signed up for Series 8 should buy the whole DVD of 50 top Pocketbooks!

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More Apprentice?

We know that The Apprentice is not watched by everyone interested in management, so we won’t let the series take over your Pocketblog. If you are a fan, please do check out my own blog, where I aim to draw a management lesson from each episode, on the morning after.

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3 thoughts on “The Apprentice and Five Levels of Leadership

  1. Pingback: Is ‘what is leadership’ one question or two? | About Management Training

  2. Pingback: Apprentice 6: A Matter of Character | mikeclayton.co.uk

  3. Pingback: The Apprentice: Summarising the Lessons Learned | mikeclayton.co.uk

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