“Big Bosses” Don’t Build Great Companies

On Entrepreneurship

By Dale Dawson

Each year we hire some of Rwanda’s top high school graduates to work as interns for Bridge2Rwanda. When asked what they like most about their job, the most common response is that they like feeling like they are part of the team. They’re always surprised that they are invited to small meetings with those in charge to discuss the daily goals, plans and tasks. They are often asked for their ideas. Even with little or no job experience, these students recognize a significant difference in management style from what most of their family and friends experience.

Leadership matters. More than any other factor, it determines the effectiveness of every organization whether in the private, government or social sectors. While we know that there are as many leadership styles as there are personalities, the question we need to answer in order to build successful businesses and strong societies in Africa is, “What are the common characteristics of leaders who build great organizations that significantly outperform their peers?” The answer may surprise you.

In his best-selling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins answered just this question. He identified the eleven greatest U.S. companies measured by their performance over many years compared to their industry peers. He then identified the characteristics that all eleven companies had in common, including the leadership style of their CEOs. Collins defined five levels of effective leadership and concluded that every one of the great companies had a Level 5 leader with the following characteristics:

Level 5 leaders are ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the organization, the work—not themselves—and they have the fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition.

A Level 5 leader displays a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

Leaders who build great organizations don’t let their ego or fears get in the way of building up the capacity of their team to accomplish the mission without them. Authoritarian, close-to-the-vest leaders do not build great organizations. Great organizations are built by dedicated, disciplined teams who share a common vision and where each individual team member is prepared and empowered to assume full responsibility for their part. Leaders of great organizations care about the organization’s long-term performance and its ability to grow and adapt after they are gone. They realize that all individuals die, retire or move on, and that great organizations are built to thrive beyond the tenure of any one person.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is one of the great Level 5 leaders of our generation. I have been privileged to work with him for several years and contrary to the image often portrayed in the international media, his fierce ambition is first, foremost and completely focused for Rwanda and its people, rather than for himself. He is preparing his country to continue its remarkable growth and development after his second presidential term concludes in 2017. His Excellency is humbly working to make every Rwandan feel like they are part of the team.