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Good to great - Jim Collins

5 Lessons that I’ve learned from … ‘Good to Great’

When I’ve read Sunnie Giles article from Harvard Business Review, I knew I’ve seen those traits of leadership somewhere before but with different words. So I decided to take a moment to think where, and so I’ve went back to a book that I find truly great.

The book I’m talking about is ‘Good to Great – Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t’ by Jim Collins. Together with his team he dived into an extraordinary research project and looked at 1,435 companies from Fortune 500 and narrowed it down to 11 companies that made the leap to greatness. A tremendous work that spread over a couple of years that brought to light interesting results and a roadmap that organizations can consider.

While writing the article ‘Leadership – what leaders are made of’, I’ve went through the book one more time and realized that I’ve already taken upon some of the concepts in my everyday life. Hence, came the idea of why not share with you what I’ve learned from it and how the concepts can be turned into improving our ‘personal business’, and by this I mean our daily life.

Good to great - Jim Collins

Level 5 Leadership

I’ll start by mentioning a couple of the results highlighted in the book and then get into what the book taught me. The first concept introduced is Level 5 Leadership, a mixture of humility and strong will directed to serve the company and not a personal ego. The findings are remarkable as this type of leaders are not often seen making headlines or blazing the media with their new program to transform an organization, they go on with an incredible desire to make a great company that will prevail years after they step down.

First Who… Then What

‘First Who… Then What’ is the second trait that transcended from the 11 companies analyzed. This translates into ‘getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.’ For a company to take this kind of action, it requires a high degree of determination and discipline. The first 2 concepts form the section of ‘Disciplined People’. But this does not mean that a tyrant type of leadership is required, it just means that you have to pick the right people that will be motivated by the same ideas of turning the company to greatness.

I personally believe that for large organizations, the finding of ‘First Who … Then What’ is truly challenging it means changing the people management approach. As Collins wrote it, there are a couple of ideas subordinated including ‘When in doubt, don’t hire – keep looking’ and ‘Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems’.

Disciplined Thought

The next section ‘Disciplined Thought’ includes 2 ideas. First ‘confront the brutal facts, yet never lose faith that in the end you will prevail’ and then discover your ‘Hedgehog concept’.

Stockdale Paradox

Let’s start with the first one. Collins defined it as the Stockdale Paradox, referring to Admiral Jim Stockdale that was a remarkable figure in the Vietnam War (you can read his memoir in the book ‘In Love and War, by Jim and Sybil Stockdale). The underlining principle is that the current and future realities should be looked at objectively and incorporated in company plans. The approach of sticking your head in the sand and thinking it will not hurt your, won’t get you anywhere good. Facts should be confronted and regarded with an eye for turning them into opportunities.

The Hedgehog Concept

The Hedgehog Concept requires defining 3 simple circles: ‘what are you deeply passionate about’, ‘what you can be the best in the world at’ and ‘what dries your economic engine’. It sounds easier that it actually is. The research revealed that it took in average four years for the good-to-great companies to define their personal concept.


Disciplined Action

Next building block is ‘Disciplined Action’ based on a ‘Culture of Discipline’ and ‘Technology Accelerators’. The Culture of Discipline will come naturally from selecting first who and then what and by developing your Hedgehog Concept as it will provide intrinsic motivation to people.

Looking into the raw data collected about the 11 companies, the research team realized that good-to-great companies used technology to support their ‘dream’, to accelerate transformation and have been in several occasions, pioneers in implementing technology. But not any technology, only the ones that fit with the Hedgehog Concept defined.

If you take all the concepts and start spinning them over and over again they will ‘buildup’ momentum and get your ‘flywheel’ moving faster and faster to get to ‘breakthrough’ and further.
I do believe you agree that the results of the study are remarkable and they are there to be implemented to help any organization reach greatness.

What are the lessons that I’ve learned from this? Well, below is a list of 5 takeaways from the book:

  1. Level 5 Leadership is not only for the very few selected ones, anyone can cultivate it tiny steps at a time, but you have to be willing to put in the effort and let go to your personal ego and pursuit your passion.
  2. Passion, passion, passion. I now I’ve preached about it also in the article ‘Smile and they will love you’, but I strongly believe finding your passion is the turning key for making your life great and what you touch be it a job, time with the kids or voluntary work. Passion is part of the Hedgehog concept that you can define for yourself.
  3. A strong mind is a great asset as thinking that you will prevail no matter what the current situation is, will help you go a long way on the journey to greatness. I’ve made a conscious decision to repeat it to myself that I will reach my goals, that I have the power and passion to get there.
  4. Whatever you chose to do, keep on pushing the flywheel. All of the lessons above will help set it in motion, but you have to keep on pushing it. Otherwise it will lose speed and might stop and the work you just did will get wasted.
  5. Greatness does not require doing more, it just requires doing the right things and letting go of the wrong things. Doing the right things will come naturally once you decide to embrace your passion, keep on thinking that you will prevail and embark on the journey to greatness.

The first step I believe is letting go of the cozy spot of ‘good’, of it worked until now, of comfort area, and decide to take a bit of time to see what makes your flywheel spin. Once you found your passion, the other pieces, will come into place easier. I do believe it takes hard work and ups and downs but having that strong mind with an eye on prevailing, it will make the path smother.

I look forward to your thoughts on the book, takeaways or personal experiences from the journey to greatness.

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