Vanessa Garrison: A Level 5 Leader


Organizations, which wish to attain lasting growth, must ensure that they have experienced administrators. Collins (2005) maintains that successful leaders possess a set of exceptional executive abilities, which enable them to guarantee that their companies overcome competition. Research shows that great companies have one thing in common: they are managed by leaders who display tremendous personal humility (Collins, 2005).

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These executives exhibit passionate professional resolve and are said to fall under the class of level five leadership. One of the individuals who qualify as a level 5 leader is Vanessa Garrison, the co-founder of GirlTrek. She displays a collection of extraordinary traits and abilities that have enabled her to steer to success one of the world’s renowned movements meant to assist African-American women and girls avoid health-related illnesses by walking. This paper will discuss the qualities that make Vanessa a level 5 leader.

First Who

Each successful project starts as a vision, and it is the duty of an originator to look for ways to guarantee its fruition. Conventionally, good-to-great leaders come up with an idea and proceed to look for strategies to implement it before recruiting the right people. Nevertheless, this is not the case with a level 5 leader. This manager considers people as the most important element to the success of a program.

Consequently, they begin by identifying people to work with before formulating strategies. Collins (2005) states that level 5 leaders make sure that they put the right people on the bus and purge those that are irrelevant before deciding where to drive the van. Vanessa is one of the leaders who appreciate the importance of identifying the right people before formulating a plan for a program. An analysis of how the GirlTrek was conceived reveals that she is a level 5 manager.

Vanessa knew that with the right people, she would not require motivating them to achieve their dream. Engaging in physical activities was enough motivation to encourage anyone that was at the danger of suffering from an obesity-related disease to come on board.

Vanessa understood that African-American women were at a risk of contracting and dying from preventable illnesses like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and stroke. Her primary objective was to make sure that she assisted as many women and girls as possible to lead a healthy life. Even before determining how they could achieve this intent, Vanessa and her co-founder identified the parties to work with, and they went ahead to contact them.

The GirlTrek movement started by Vanessa and Dixon (co-founder) inviting their family members and friends to join them in walking. They requested their friends to reach out to other women and girls and encourage them to set aside time for walking daily. Today, this movement has reached millions of women across the United States and partnered with numerous organizations like The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), The Sierra Club, and The American Council on Exercise.

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Stockdale Paradox

This principle holds that an individual can endure challenges by clinging on two opposing beliefs. According to Collins (2005), level 5 leaders have the capacity to confront prevailing challenges and to trust that will overcome them. Such executives are motivated by the results of their program rather than the challenges that they have to tolerate. The current success of the GirlTrek movement is likened to the biblical story of David and Goliath (GirlTrek, 2018).

American government and non-profit organizations have spent billions of dollars in projects aimed at helping women and girls to lose weight without succeeding. Vanessa knew that it would be an uphill task to persuade people to participate in physical exercises. At the beginning, an effort to reach out to as many people as possible proved futile. Many women, especially the working class claimed that they did not have the time to walk.

Additionally, maintaining this movement required money, which Vanessa and her co-founder had problems mobilizing. These challenges did not deter them from pursuing their primary goal of helping black women and girls to lead a healthy life. Today, this movement has achieved results that no one could have expected. It has not only helped people to change their behavior but also saved the government a lot of money that could have been spent on treating people with obesity-linked diseases (GirlTrek, 2018). Indeed, the success of the GirlTrek has led to many non-profit and government organizations supporting Vanessa and Dixon’s cause.

Buildup-Breakthrough Flywheel

Organizational directors understand that it is difficult to establish a company and achieve success within a short time. The level 5 leaders assist profit and non-profit businesses to make gradual and consistent milestones as they move towards the ultimate breakthrough (Collins, 2005). Vanessa realized that for the GirlTrek movement to succeed, she required building a momentum gradually. Consequently, she constantly empowered women who served as trainers in their respective communities. Additionally, she encouraged them to share their success stories as a tactic to draw many people into joining this movement. Eventually, scores of women and girls came to learn about the GirlTrek, thereby signing up as members.

The Hedgehog Concept

This concept holds that the success of any organization is premised on understanding three overlapping circles. They are the capabilities of a company, its economic efficiency, and what motivates employees (Collins, 2005). A level 5 leader succeeds because they acknowledge and implement this concept consistently. American government had tried different approaches to containing weight-related diseases but failed (National Institute for Transportation and Communities, 2016).

Vanessa understood that encouraging people to walk was the ultimate solution to this problem (Bornstein, 2016). Therefore, she was sure that her movement was best suited at addressing illnesses associated with obesity. Vanessa trusted that the GirlTrek would be helpful in reducing costs attributed to treating preventable diseases. Black people are renowned for leveraging walking to mobilize people (National Institute for Transportation and Communities, 2016). Therefore, Vanessa was confident that creating a movement that advocated walking would attract many women.

The Window and the Mirror

Level 5 leaders do not blame their subordinates whenever things fail to work as planned. Instead, they compliment them in case of success and assume blame for any failure (Collins, 2005). Vanessa does not attribute the success of the GirlTrek to her effort or that of the co-founder. Instead, she acknowledges the role that community leaders have played in mobilizing women to register for this cause. It would have been difficult for Vanessa and Dixon to contact many people without the help of these trainers.

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Vanessa is regarded as a level 5 leader due to her success in running the GirlTrek movement, which has helped many black women to live a healthy life. She worked in liaison with her co-founder to identify the right people to engage in their lobby group. In spite of the movement facing many challenges, Vanessa was certain that they would conquer in the end. She collaborated with local women leaders who were helpful in ensuring that the movement spread across the country progressively.

Vanessa believed that encouraging black women to walk was the only solution to obesity-related illnesses since other government interventions had failed. She attributes her success to the altruism that women leaders demonstrate in their effort to mobilize communities to embrace walking.


Bornstein, D. (2016). Walking together for health and spirit. The New York Times. Web.

Collins, J. (2005). Level 5 leadership: The triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Harvard Business Review, pp. 1-12.

GirlTrek. (2018). Annual impact report 2018. Web.

National Institute for Transportation and Communities. (2016). Why we walk: Vanessa Garrison leads GirlTrek’s movement for black women’s health and justice. Web.

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