Guest Post: My Grandfather was a Level 5 Leader…Who Knew! By Kellie Mieremet

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Guest Post: My Grandfather was a Level 5 Leader…Who Knew! By Kellie Mieremet


About The Author:  Kellie is a graduate student pursuing her MBA at the Gore School of Business at Westminster College.

When I was little I thought my grandfather was amazing because he was mine and I loved him. Now that I am older, I realize he was amazing because of his life experiences as a farmer, a US Marine, and as a business executive. These experiences helped him grow into a level 5 leader. Jim Collins describes this type of leader as an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will. [1]

At an early age, my grandfather’s will was put to the test. He was the sixth of nine children growing up in a small rural town in Georgia. His father was a sharecropper who worked long days in the fields where his children were expected to work alongside of him. When he was seven, his mother died of arsenic poisoning and his father was partially paralyzed. In order to survive, the young children were split up in various family members’ homes; however, my grandfather and his younger brother and sister, were placed in a Masonic Orphanage.

After finishing high school at the Orphanage he was on his own again. He got lucky and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was transported from Georgia to Utah. This regimented program of hard work and dedication allowed him to grow while learning to live and work with other individuals whom he’d never met before.

United States Marie CorpWhile in Utah he joined the United States Marine Corps during WWII and found himself throughout the South Pacific. This experience deepened his humility, tested his courage, brought about sorrow, and gave him the faith and will to survive as thousands of those around him fell. He adopted the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis; which means “always faithful”. However, it goes beyond teamwork and stands for a brotherhood that can always be counted on.[2] He showed this faithfulness on many occasions. One in particular was when he encountered an air raid while delivering the payroll. His first concern was safety for everyone so he dropped the bag and ran for cover. Once the raid was over, he headed back out and picked up the payroll.

There are many lessons one can take from the Marine Corps’ list of eleven leadership principles.[3] There are two in particular that stand out to me when looking at my grandfather and his leadership.

Know yourself and seek self-improvement — This principle is interesting for two reasons. First, I saw my grandfather learning self-awareness while always taking time for self-improvement. His humility gave him the ability to step back and learn new skills, finding ways for improving himself for the betterment of those around him. Second, this closely aligns with one of Daniel Goleman’s five emotional intelligence skills that distinguish a great leader: a strong sense of self-awareness allows individuals to be honest not only with themselves but with others as well.[4]

Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions — I knew that my grandfather instilled in us a sense of responsibility, but I never knew that it likely stemmed from his time in the Marine Corps. This principle also aligns with Peter F. Drucker’s case for what makes an effective executive – they take responsibility for decisions and they take responsibility for communicating.[5] Not only is this principle important in the world of business, it is crucial in the military world. In 2006, Jim Collins wrote about his time at West Point talking with officers and cadets about how there are misconceptions about leadership in and outside of the military.[6] One of his host captains talked about how in business bad decisions can result in money lost, but in the military, bad decisions can result in lives lost. This just goes to show how important Level 5 leaders are to our daily lives.

After the war, my grandfather saw an opportunity to become part of an emerging land and livestock company. With only a high school diploma he never shied away from learning a new skill and moving up the ladder. What he didn’t know, he learned on the run. The company grew and so did my grandfather. Eventually he became a top executive in one of the major oil, land, and livestock companies in the United States. Because he exhibited level 5 leadership traits he helped build that company from the ground up.

He was a quiet man, not self-proclaiming, but a man of action. His word was his bond. He was truthful and trustworthy.

As I look back and remember my grandfather I see that he was comfortable in the offices of leaders around the world making multimillion dollar deals. Yet, he was just as comfortable on his tractor tending to his family’s garden. Humility + Will = Level 5.

About The Author:  Kellie is a graduate student pursuing her MBA at the Gore School of Business at Westminster College.

[1] Collins, J. (2011). Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve (pp. 115-116). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

[2] United States Marine Corps. (2013). Principles and values. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from

[3] United States Marine Corps. (2013). Leadership principles. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from

[4] Goleman, D. (2011). What Makes a Leader? (pp. 7). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press

[5] Drucker, P. F. (2011). What Makes an Effective Executive (pp. 23-32). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

[6] Collins, J. (2006). Leadership lessons from west point. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from




About the Author:

Professor and award winning author, world traveler, Mom, thought leader, mentor, friend, and advocate Vicki Whiting, Ph.D. is dedicated to the facilitation of learning and the development of leaders in all walks of life.

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