My good friend and fellow John Maxwell Team Executive Director, Deb Ingino in New York, recently wrote a piece with great wisdom. In my desire to be a river and not a reservoir, much of her wisdom is shared below.

Deb tells the story of a woman, let’s call her Liz, at an RV show, calmly seated inside a highly customized model, reviewing some paperwork at the table.

Liz stood as a couple entered, extended her hand, and began a very welcoming conversation. As they began to ask very detailed questions about the RV, it quickly became apparent that Liz knew the model from every perspective. Impressed with her level of knowledge, the couple asked her position within the company.

Liz replied with a soft smile, “I am the owner.”

They learned that she had started working for the company about two decades prior, as a secretary. It was a good company, built on a solid foundation. She learned all she could about the product and the industry. The day came when the founder decided to sell the company – and she bought it.

It went on to become one of the most in-demand companies for high quality custom RVs, and, under her leadership, it attained massive growth and success. Liz was unpretentious and quick to point out the efforts of the team behind the product. She was proud – not of her accomplishments – but of the accomplishments of her team.

In the best-selling book, Good to Great,Jim Collins talks about Level 5 leaders. These are leaders who have markedly shifted good companies to the level of being great companies – and for an extended period of time.

These top leaders are those who generally come up from the ranks, not those who ride into a company on a white horse to miraculously save the day. They are those who work hard and build a solid team.

There is also an interesting common thread in that they will not take the credit for themselves. If you note their accomplishments, they will deflect that compliment to their people. On the other hand, if there is a problem, they willingly accept the blame – and then seek to find a solution.

Weak leaders do the opposite – they take the credit and deflect the blame.

How can you as a leader identify the next strong leaders for your company?

1. Look Within – A big part of the Level 5 leader’s success is that he or she has come up through the ranks, learning the company from various perspectives. They have worked in various areas of the company, getting hands-on, face-to-face experience for what it takes to do the work. They are those who have made it their business to learn the business from the grass roots. If you are seeking to build a leadership team, look first for inside candidates. Chances are, they won’t be the ones sitting at their desks with hands in the air, saying, “Pick me! Pick me!” In all likelihood, they will be the ones with their heads down making things happen.

2. Invest in People – If the leaders of your company are to come from those who currently work there, are you intentionally and proactively investing in their success? Are you providing development and experience gaining opportunities at each level in your organization?

3. Give Them Room to Grow – Have you laid the foundation to ensure the employees in your company have room to grow? Do you help them create progression plans? Do you have mentor-leaders at each level of your company? If your goal is to truly build a strong company, you must look below the surface and build from a strong foundation.

4. Value the People You Lead – In the business world today, there is a devaluation factor, where those who “do” are not truly valued for what they could accomplish. Most leaders convince themselves they must tell each employee what to do and how to do it. While this has come to be the expected norm, the fact is, there are many employees who may have better ideas than the leaders on some matters.

How do you show people that you value them?

Listen to their ideas. Ask for their opinions. And then, where it makes sense for your company, implement those ideas. The fact is, some of the best ideas, efficiencies, and innovations come from those on the front lines.

5. Keep Your Eye on the Goal – Great leaders will make sacrifices in order to reach a goal. Are you as a leader willing to sacrifice what is best for you in order to do what is best for the company? Have you created a team that operates with that same level of commitment?

When it comes to succession planning, these are solid tenets. While it may be self-satisfying to be seen as a successful leader, it is even more gratifying and fulfilling to be seen as a successful leader of leaders. This is the true legacy of a great leader.

Hope this stimulates some thought – let me know if you need a thinking partner.

Best Regards,


PS – Special thanks to my friend Deb Ingino, a highly talented Executive Coach and Consultant located who has helped develop leaders all over the world. She can be reached at