Leadership is complex because it operates on many levels. Articles to this point have focused on Individual Leadership, i.e., the traits and practices of a leader for being effective on a one-to-one basis with others. We only scratched the surface so far, but at least you have some points of reference going forward.

Leadership within companies adds to the complexity, design, and practice of leadership throughout an enterprise.  This article outlines the basic structure of Organizational Leadership on which future articles will expound. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins defined five levels of leadership within organizations, which provides a solid framework for understanding leadership from a broad perspective.

  • Level 1 leaders are highly capable individuals who are engaged for their performance character and ability to get jobs done. Every person within an organization should be a Level 1 leader who holds himself or herself personally accountable for results within his or her scope of responsibility.


  • Level 2 leaders are contributing team members who interact and support others in achieving mutual goals and collaborate to innovate and create new products and services that can better serve customers and clients. Communication and emotional intelligence emerge as critical skills for success in this role that begins to engage moral character.


  • Level 3 leaders are competent managers who oversee departments, regions, or lines of business and bear responsibility for executing the tactics that support strategies defined and developed by Level 4 and 5 leaders. Communication, motivation, and inspiration are three critical leadership functions at this level of organizational operations.


  • Level 4 leaders are effective leaders who develop and guide of enterprise-wide initiatives and effectively negotiate the four frames that define an organization: Structural, human resources, political and symbolic/cultural) (Bolman and Deal, 2003). This leader must employ all four key leadership functions-Communication, inspiration, motivation, and envisioning.


  • Level 5 leaders are executives responsible for the success of the entire enterprise, regardless of where it operates. Collins (2001) described Level 5 leaders as visionary and strong-willed yet humble at the same time. True Level 5 leaders are authentic, honest, and transformational, not only engaging the four core leadership functions but also setting standards and new heights for the organization and its constituents.  If you are leading a company, then you need to be engaging with others as a Level 5 leader, regardless of the size of your company. 


Within the context of these five levels, three specific leadership roles exist:

  • Tactical, Front-line Leadership (Levels 1 and 2), also known as Grassroots Leadership, must demonstrate integrity while willingly contributing and sharing ideas that can improve individual and unit performance. Connecting personal actions to company purpose and culture (vision, mission, and values) is critical in executing tasks with a strong commitment to service, excellence, and high performance. Level 2 leaders also encourage others to share ideas and create harmony by showing caring and trust, the foundational values of lasting relationships.  In the essence of teamwork, Level 2 leaders help others achieve their goals and foster good communication by being mentally present and listening to others.


  • Operational Leadership (Level 3) aligns organizational structures with Organizational Purpose to execute necessary actions for achieving strategic goals. Operational leaders bear overall responsibility for selecting the right people for the right jobs and establishing the rules, policies, & procedures to execute the processes that achieve goals.  Solving operational issues, making appropriate decisions, establishing and implementing performance management and reward systems, and ensuring knowledge management (KM) systems are in place to support decision-making all fall within the purview of Level 3 leaders.


  • Strategic Leadership (Levels 4 and 5) looks outward and must be sensitive to the external environment with organizational awareness. Defining and protecting Organizational Purpose (Vision and mission) and Culture (Values, beliefs, assumptions, and philosophy) are paramount at this level along with Governance and the strategic alignment of resources to achieve long-range goals.  Recognition systems, strategic decision-making and problem-solving (particularly the allocation of resources), and ongoing knowledge creation, which is the root of innovation and change, fall within the purview of strategic leaders.


Regardless of the size of your company and the number of employees you have, these levels and roles exist. Many leaders of smaller companies find themselves performing both Operational and Strategic Leadership roles, which often blurs or obscures how these roles are understood and executed.  Future articles will address this challenge.


Suggested Reading (Books are available on Amazon):

  1. Collins, Jim. (2001) Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t. HarperCollins publisher. This book still holds seeds of wisdom despite its age.


  1. Bolman, Lee and Deal, Terrence. (2021, 7th edition). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. John Wiley & Sons publisher. This book has been continuously updated since its first printing and is just as relevant today because its foundation is solid and classic.


Questions for the Week:  In which leadership roles am I most comfortable?  In which leadership roles am I most confident?  Which leadership roles are well-defined within my company?  Which roles require more work on my part, based on the definitions and scope of each given above?



About the Author: Dr. Ray Benedetto is co-founder of GuideStar, Inc.® a practice in organizational leadership for performance excellence (www.guidestarinc.com). He is a retired Air Force colonel with a distinguished active-duty military career. He is board certified in Healthcare Management and a Life Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). Dr. Ray taught leadership for 12 years for the University of Phoenix Chicago campus. He holds degrees from Penn State (BS), the University of Southern California (MSSM), and the University of Phoenix (DM). He is co-author of “It’s My Company TOO! How Entangled Companies Move Beyond Engagement for Remarkable Results” (Greenleaf Book Press Group, 2012) and numerous ezine articles available online. You can reach him at ray@guidestarinc.com.




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