What does Level 5 Leadership look like in #highered marketing?

One of the many intriguing sessions I attended during last month’s CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement was a session titled “Lessons from Advancement’s Level 5 Leaders.” Presented by Daniel P. Saftig, senior consultant and principal at Marts&Lundy, the talk focused on leaders in fundraising so it wasn’t really in my bailiwick. (To the chagrin of communicators, marketers and alumni relations people, fundraising is still what many people, even in the business, think of when they hear the word advancement.) But Saftig’s big question — “What does Level 5 Leadership look like in fundraising?” — intrigued me enough that I’ve been thinking about a similar question:

What does Level 5 Leadership look like in higher ed marketing and communications?


Before I run too far with this question, let me back up a minute and explain this idea of Level 5 Leadership. It comes from the 2001 business classic by Jim Collins, Good to Great, in which Collins studies the success secrets of some companies. (If you haven’t read the book, Collins offers a terrific summary on his website.) A critical factor for success in the companies Collins studied in Good to Great was the qualities of their leaders.

He called them “Level 5 leaders.”

The term refers to “refers to the highest level in a hierarchy of executive capabilities that we identified during our research,” Collins wrote in a 2001 Harvard Business Review article. “Leaders at the other four levels in the hierarchy can produce high degrees of success but not enough to elevate companies from mediocrity to sustained excellence.”

Level 5 leadership at the top of the pyramid (via Harvard Business Review).

Collins and his research team found that Level 5 leaders “are a study in duality: modest and willful, shy and fearless.”

Measuring leadership in advancement (development)

Building on Collins’ work, Saftig decided to do a quest of his own for the Level 5 leaders in advancement/development. He developed an interesting set of criteria to determine Level 5s.

To be considered as a Level 5, advancement officers must meet these three criteria:

  • Serve as chief development officer for the same institution for a minimum of 10 years
  • Those institutions must generate $100 million or more in gifts annually
  • Have led at least one $1 billion-plus campaign

I don’t agree with Saftig’s criteria, because it leaves no room for great development leadership at smaller institutions, let alone for schools or colleges within an institution. It also could bias against women and underrepresented minorities, many of whom have only recently been in a position to advance to leadership positions.

Not surprisingly, there aren’t many development officers who meet these qualifications to be considered a Level 5-er. In fact, Saftig found only 10, and each led the fundraising operation of major research universities, public and private. Again, this represents a narrow slice of the higher ed enterprise in the U.S.

Then again, just as Good to Great wasn’t intended to be representative of all businesses, neither is Saftig trying to represent a broad cross-section of higher education.

Enough nit-picking about Saftig’s criteria. What Saftig discovered through interviews with the 10 chief development officers was interesting and in many ways aligned with Collins’ Good to Great findings. I’m not going to outline it here; you can read my archived live tweets from the session and get this gist. Or you can contact Saftig.

Defining Level 5 leadership in higher ed marketing and communications

More than anything, Saftig’s presentation has prompted me to think about looking at higher ed marketing through a similar lens.

What makes a Level 5 leader in the higher ed marketing sphere?

What are the criteria to even get started in a quest for Level 5 leaders?

Our work often is not measured numerically — not in the direct ways our colleagues in development are measured. Longevity could be one possible criteria. What else would define these individuals?

I’d love to explore this idea further. And I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts on the subject.

Image via Haiku Deck presentation.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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