Can You Be a Level 5 Leader without a Hedgehog Concept?

Audio Transcript

Can you be a Level 5 without a Hedgehog Concept or without being a hedgehog? Think for a moment about two presidents, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Two very different leaders. Now, Carter was a consummate fox and Reagan was a consummate hedgehog. Carter never got a clear, crystalline Hedgehog Concept for his presidency. Reagan had a clear and simple Hedgehog Concept for his presidency. 

In Carter’s case, as you know, along the lines of the parable “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” where the fox is a crafty, intelligent creature that knows many things and is able to embrace great complexity—we see that in Carter, of course. He was worried about all the detailed line items, even in the OMB budget, and the complexity of the role at times overwhelmed him and made him a less effective president.

Now, let’s go on the other side, to Mr. Reagan. Mr. Reagan, on the other hand, was just this simple hedgehog-like creature, the idea being that, unlike the fox, the hedgehog is a dowdy creature, a simple creature; and unlike the fox, which knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing.  

So, in Reagan’s case, it didn’t really matter what the question was, you always got the same hedgehog answer.

“Mr. Reagan, what are we going to do about the economy?”
“Well, it’s going to be a smaller government, and we’re going to take care of the evil empire.”

“Mr. Reagan, what are we going to do about drugs?”

“Smaller government, evil empire.”

“Mr. Reagan, what are we going to do about education?”

“Smaller government, evil empire.”

It didn’t really matter what the question was. It all came back to the simple hedgehog answer.  

Now, regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, there’s no question that Mr. Reagan was a more effective president with his particular political objectives. Part of that has to do with the fact that he was more of a hedgehog than Mr. Carter, who was more of a fox in office.  

But now, let me step back and put it in the context of Level 5. I actually admire both men, regardless, in fact, of their politics. In fact, if we take a look at Jimmy Carter, it’s undeniable that he is a true Level 5. The man is truly ambitious for works and causes larger than himself. We have seen that in his ex-presidency. He is perhaps the greatest, or one of the greatest, ex-presidents that we have ever had—truly a great man. So, what we have in Carter’s case is somebody who is Level 5 without being a hedgehog and without having a Hedgehog Concept. When you’re able to marry Level 5 with a Hedgehog—if you have Level 5 plus that hedgehog simplicity that Reagan had—in the end, you will be more effective.  

So, can you be Level 5 and not have a Hedgehog Concept? Yes. It’s entirely possible. We saw it in Mr. Carter.

Copyright © 2017 Jim Collins, All rights reserved.