Based on Jim Collins’ ideas and concepts out of his book From Good to Great
FROM GOOD TO GREAT: 5 CORE PRINCIPLES
1. LEVEL 5 LEADERSHIP:
It all starts with a unique brand of leadership, which Jim Collins calls “Level 5 Leadership.” Level 5 leadership is a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will, with a workman like diligence. A Level 5 leader does not act from ego or bravado, but rather from inner conviction, and from an unwavering resolve to what must be done. It isn’t that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. They are indeed very ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the vision and mission, and not for themselves.
They apply a direction called “the window and the mirror”. When things go well, they look out “the window” to give credit to factors outside themselves. They fully understand that good results come from the collective intelligence. And they look into “the mirror” to take full personal responsibility when things go poorly, never blaming others or even bad luck. Yet when things go well, and they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck.
Level 5 leaders have a fierce, even stoic resolve towards life. They are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless, not letting ego get in the way of a larger vision. They channel their ego from themselves into a larger goal.
Quoting Jim Collins: “We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the type of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one. Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make head-lines and become celebrities, or the genius with a thousand helpers, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars”.
2. WHO’S ON YOUR BUS?
Level 5 leaders choose as well as educate and mentor a special quality of people who express dedication, loyalty, commitment, work ethics and shared core values. Level 5 leaders fill their “bus” with good people, who are excited about the work they are doing, and who enjoy being on the bus. They create a bus full of people who respect, appreciate and admire one another, and for whom the mutual respect for each other grows into lasting comradeship. Level 5 leaders are saying in essence: “Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. We’ll let the direction reveal itself as we drive along. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats, then we’ll figure out how to take it somewhere great, always “recalculating” the direction it needs to take to fit the realities of new times and new circumstances.”
Quoting Jim Collins: “We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and a strategic plan. We found instead that they “first” got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats – and then they figured where to drive. The old adage “People are your most important asset” turns out to be wrong. People are “not” your most important asset. The “right” people are”.
3. THE HARDINESS FACTOR:
“When you turn over rocks, and you see all the squiggly things underneath, you can either put the rock down, or you can say: “My job is to turn over rocks and look at the squiggly things, even if what you see scares the hell out of you” Fred Purdue
“I have no need for cheering dreams…..facts are better than dreams.” Winston Churchill
“Pessimists find the difficulty in every opportunity. Optimists find the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill
The “hardiness factor” is the capacity to confront and face a changing reality, and sometimes even the brutal facts of a new reality, and see the truth of the situation, making courageous decisions, knowing that even if they are bad decisions, the maximum learning will be extracted from the tuition paid.
When you make an honest effort to determine the truth of the situation, the right decisions often become self-evident. And even if all decisions do not become self evident, one thing is certain: you cannot make a series of good decisions without confronting the brutal facts of reality.
The “hardiness studies” were done by the International Committee for the Study of Victimization: these studies looked at people who had suffered serious adversity – cancer patients, prisoners of war, accident victims etc – and survived. They found that people fell generally into three categories: a) those who were permanently dispirited by the event, b) those who got their life back to normal, and c) those who used the experience as a defining event that made them stronger.
The “hardiness factor” is powerfully illustrated by Stockdale, the American officer shot down in Vietnam and thrown in a POW camp for 8 years, and by Viktor Frankl who was taken to Auschwitz and survived the atrocities of the concentration camp. The “hardiness factor” is a powerful psychological duality. It is a seeming paradox. On the one hand, stoically accepting the brutal facts of reality. On the other hand, maintaining an unwavering faith in the endgame, and creating meaning out of every event. Stockdale says: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the relentless discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be”.
Jim Collins reminds us that life is unfair – sometimes to our advantage, sometime to our disadvantage. We will all experience disappointments and crushing events somewhere along the way, setbacks for which there is no “reason”, no one to blame. It might be a disease; it might be an injury, it might be an accident, it might be losing a loved one; it might be being swept away in a political shake up. The “hardiness factor” is a signature of all those who create greatness, no matter what the circumstances, be it in leading their own life or leading others, because they can strip away the noise and focus on the few things that truly matter.
4. ARE YOU A HEDGEHOG OR A FOX?
This question was asked by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, in his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, in which he divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based on an ancient Greek parable. Foxes know many things, move in many directions, pursue many ends at the same time, and see the world in all its complexity. Sometimes they can “be scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, never integrating their thinking into one overall and unifying vision” says Isaiah Berlin. Hedgehogs on the other hand simplify a complex world into one organizing and integrated idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything: Freud and the unconscious, Darwin and natural selection, Marx and class struggle, Einstein and relativity, Adam Smith and division of labor. They use their hedgehog nature to drive towards what Jim Collins calls “the Hedgehog Concept”. It is the understanding of the “one thing” you are talented at, or the one thing you believe in, and it is taking that one simple concept and just doing it with complete passion, excellence and imagination.
The three intersecting circles of the Hedgehog Concept:
- Are you doing the work for which you have a genetic or God-given talent, and perhaps you could become one of the best in the world in applying that talent (I feel I was just born to do this).
- Are you well paid for what you do? (I get paid for this? Am I dreaming?)
- You are doing work you are passionate about and absolutely love to do, enjoying the actual process for its own sake. (I look forward to getting up and throwing myself into my daily work, and I really believe in what I am doing).
5. KEEP PUSHING THE FLYWHEEL:
Jim Collins likens going from good to great to pushing on a giant, heavy flywheel. It takes a lot of effort to get the thing moving at all. But with consistent pushing, in a consistent direction, over a long period of time, the flywheel builds momentum, eventually hitting a breakthrough. Jim Collins says: “Good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no solitary lucky break, now wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by an organic, cumulative process – step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel – that adds up to sustained and spectacular results”.
Jim Collins gives us the metaphor of the egg. Picture an egg just sitting there. No one pays it much attention until, one day, the egg cracks open and out jumps a chicken. All the major magazines and newspapers jump on the event, writing feature stories – “The Transformation of Egg to Chicken!”, “The Remarkable Revolution of the Egg!”, “Stunning turnaround at EGG” as if the egg had undergone some overnight metamorphosis, radically altering itself into chicken.
But Jim Collins asks: “what does it look like from the chicken’s point of view?” It’s a completely different story. While the world ignored this dormant looking egg, the chicken was evolving, growing, developing, incubating. From the chicken’s point of view, cracking the egg is simply one more step in a long chain of steps leading up to that moment – a big step to be sure, but hardly the radical, single-step transformation it looks like to those watching the egg.
Jim Collins shifts the question from “Why greatness?” to “What work makes you compelled to try to create greatness?”
The real question then is not “why greatness?” but rather “What work makes you feel compelled to try to create greatness?” The point is caring deeply about the work you are engaged in, putting your full passion into it, allowing yourself to be at your growth edge, again and again, squarely facing the brutal facts as they show up, and embracing the new realities. And when your responsibilities line up with your own three intersecting circles of the Hedgehog Concept (I was born to do this, I even get paid for this, and I look forward to getting up and throwing myself into my daily work and I really believe in what I am doing), and when all these pieces come together, not only does your work move towards greatness, but so does your life. For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. Jim Collins says: “Perhaps then you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you have had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on earth has been well spent, and that it matters.”