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Who is a level six leader?

Answering the question "Whom do you serve?" is an excellent way of determining the type of leader a person truly is.

That's the thrust of a fascinating and insightful article "Are You a Level-Six Leader?" by Dr. Modesto Maidique in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review. Dr. Maidique, President Emeritus of Florida International University (FIU) and Executive Director of FIU's Center for Leadership, also serves as a visiting professor at Harvard University. 

In his article, Dr. Maidique presents a useful typology, a six-level Purpose-Driven Model of Leadership. "The answer to the question whom do you serve often reveals more about leaders than knowing their personality traits or level of achievement," he writes.

Three undesirable levels of leadership are identified and described: 

  • Level One Leader: the Sociopath, with a variety of mental illnesses; he or she can be powerful but serves no one.
  • Level Two Leader: the Opportunist serves only himself or herself, often for the accumulation of power and wealth.
  • Level Three Leader: the Chameleon who tries to please others as often as possible, frequently changing to do so.

Unfortunately, Level Two and Level Three Leaders abound in corporations, Dr. Maidique tells his readers.

But there is much more to admire in looking at the next three levels of leadership, determined by examining the question of whom they serve:

  • Level Four Leader: the Achiever, who achieves and even exceeds goals set by himself/herself or by others. Achievers pursue goals but without giving much consideration to a broader mission. Example: Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd.
  • Level Five Leader: the Builder, strives not to reach a goal but to build an institution. They are not "seduced by the twin mirages of short-term profit or stock market valuations," Dr. Maidique points out. Examples: IBM's Tom Watson Jr., GM's Alfred P. Sloan
  • Level Six Leader: the Transcendent, a rare type of leader who transcends their political party, ethnic group or institution to focus on how to benefit all of society. Example: Nelson Mandela who rose above racial conflicts to build a country for all South Africans.

Dr. Maidique points out that most people are a mix of all types of leaders, with one type being dominant. He opines that people are capable of continuing moral development and thus changing their type of leadership. Helping leaders to find their own path and follow it should be the ultimate goal of a leadership development program, he summarizes.

To read entire article, please visit Harvard Business School