Throughout the world, there are very few organizations and even sports teams with Level 5 leaders. Level 5 leaders are explained to be an executive in whom extreme personal humility blends paradoxically with intense professional will, according to Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. Having such contradictory characteristics, coming across someone like this is very rare.
I have never run an organization, but I have been in charge of several sports teams. Not in the context of coaching, but rather as captain. During my senior year of high school, I was named captain of my soccer team and also the winter and spring track teams. Being captain of the soccer team is very different than being captain of the track teams. Soccer is much more of a team oriented sport, where track focuses more on individual accomplishments.
I have played soccer my whole life, like most people who choose to write a topic about sports. I was always one of the stand out players on any team I played for, from recreational sports to all the way up to collegiate soccer.
For example, in football, the quarterback is the most important player on the field. In soccer, the most important position is the sweeper (center defender), in my opinion. This, coincidentally enough, is the position I play. The sweeper is the player who directs everyone else on the field. The sweeper tells the other players when to step up to the ball, when to pass, when an opposing player is closing in on them, and any other direction that helps them win the game. In addition, the sweeper is the glue that holds the entire defense together. The sweeper is the last line before the opposing team gets to the goalkeeper. In my eyes, it is my job to do everything in my power to protect the goalkeeper and prevent any shots on goal as well as to keep my team motivated to win.
Jim Collins identifies the characteristics common to Level 5 leaders as humility, will, ferocious resolve, and the tendency to give credit to others while assigning blame to themselves. In my senior year, I feel that I exhibited a majority of those characteristics while acting as team captain. Each game we had, I did everything in my power to keep the opposing team away from my goalkeeper and the ball out of our half of the field. Anytime we lost a game or the opposing team scored a goal, it would crush me. I felt that I failed my team, failed my defense and failed my goalkeeper.
When we started our run in the state tournament, my coach asked me to start playing another position since our forwards were finding it very difficult to score. The strategy was to have me play the first half of the game as sweeper to allow my defense to settle into the game, then once the second half began, I would move up to forward. The switch was a key catalyst in changing the way we played our games and helped us win the state sectional championship that year.
I had to ensure my defense was comfortable without me at the helm as I had been there for four years. I also had to be sensitive to the forwards that my moving up was not because any wrong doing on their end, but a change in strategy to surprise our opposition. As each game went on, my field presence and playing defined the game. The local newspapers would interview me after every game and call me on weekends to discuss how the change in our lineup was driving us closer and closer to the state championship.
As flattered as I may have been, I never took the credit for myself. I always said, and truly believed, that the only reason the switch up was successful was because I had an extremely capable team supporting me. When I moved to forward, that was the first time in 4 years that the defense line had a different sweeper and they were able to hold their own. That was a huge reason we were successful.
I always had a tendency to deflect all the credit that came with our wins to my entire team, not just me. But on the other hand, whenever we would lose, it was no one else’s fault but my own. I constantly made sure that my team knew we would not have been successful if it was not for everyone’s contribution.
I was not a perfect Level 5 leader, but looking back on my experiences and learning about what it means to actually be a Level 5 leader, I realized that I had moments that made me feel like one.