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Understanding level 5 leaders: the ethical perspectives of leadership humility

Cam Caldwell (School of Business, Dixie State University, St George, Utah, USA)
Riki Ichiho (School of Business, Dixie State University, St George, Utah, USA)
Verl Anderson (School of Business, Dixie State University, St George, Utah, USA)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore the ethical perspectives of leadership humility. Jim Collins, in his seminal work, Good to Great, noted that all great organizations are led by “Level 5 leaders (L5Ls).” These leaders exhibit fierce resolve, but incredible humility. This paper examines the nature of humility and its assumptions associated with 12 frequently cited ethical perspectives. Humility builds high follower trust and commitment so often lacking in the modern organization. The paper identifies four practical contributions for scholars and leaders who seek to understand the role of humility in leadership effectiveness.


This paper is a conceptual paper which relies heavily on research from the current literature about leadership, trust, and humility.


This paper compares humility with 12 well-regarded ethical perspectives and presents humility as an ethically-relevant leadership construct that helps leaders to build trust, commitment, and followership.

Research limitations/implications

Because this paper is not an empirical study, it does not present research information, propositions, or hypotheses.

Practical implications

This paper suggests that leaders can be more effective if they come to understand the implicit ethical nature of leadership and the importance of humility in building trust.


Although Collins’ research about great organizations identified the importance of Level 5 leadership 15 years ago, very little has been written about the nature of humility as a leadership virtue. More importantly, this paper is among the first to identify the relationship between ethics and humility for L5Ls.



Caldwell, C., Ichiho, R. and Anderson, V. (2017), "Understanding level 5 leaders: the ethical perspectives of leadership humility", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 36 No. 5, pp. 724-732.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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