Bob’s Ramble: Leadership Development – What Separates the Good from the Great?

I recently attended a small CEO conference in Las Vegas, where Jim Collins (author of Good to Great, Built to Last, Great by Choice, How the Mighty Fall and many others) was speaking to us on leadership. I’m a big fan and cite Great by Choice to be the best business book I’ve read because his conclusions are made from deep research and analysis. I thought it might be valuable to share some of his insights in this quarter’s Ramble. Hope there’s something here of value to you!

The Organization

  • The most critical factor in an organization’s success is getting the right people (A players) on the bus – and in the right seats.
  • Simplify and pick the most important principles to your organization – and make sure everyone in the organization understands these principles.
  • There is genius in the word “and” when it’s bridging seemingly opposing concepts. Examples: efficiency and innovation; improved collections and better customer satisfaction; higher prices/rates and happier customers; confront the brutal facts and never lose faith to overcome adversity; lower costs and better service; preserve the core and stimulate progress.
  • To attain consecutive positive performance, one must think and act both short term and long term. Set short term goals that you must hit no matter what, that add up to a material long term goal. Jim told the story of his wife who had a long-term goal to ride her bicycle from Portland Oregon (or nearby) to Portland Maine. To make it in the allotted time, she needed to average 100 miles per day. She made all the hotel reservations, approximately 100 miles apart, in advance for the whole trip. Yes, she made it on time.
  • Five stages of decline: 1. Hubris born of success; 2. Undisciplined pursuit of more; 3. Denial of risk or peril; 4. Grasping for salvation; 5. Capitulation to irrelevance

The Leaders

  • The most common mistake most managers make is waiting too long (too patient with existing people) to get A players in the key seats.
  • Elite leaders have deep humility and indomitable will to succeed.
  • Be productively paranoid, the odds are not in your favor. Be afraid, innovate constantly and stay alert.
  • If the organization needs you to be great, it’s not a great company. Great organizations remain great after their great leaders leave.
  • Confront the brutal facts or they will confront you. Failure to do so is a precursor to decline.
  • To assess leaders, look to how they handle situations when things go badly. Is their nature to point out the window or to point in the mirror? Is it someone else’s fault? An external force? When things go well is it also someone else’s fault?
  • Be a clock builder – a clock that keeps running perpetually.

The Team

  • Encourage people and teams to take responsibility and give them a high level of freedom to execute within a framework.
  • The best people want to do the hardest things.
  • It is smarter to take care of your people than your career trajectory. Take care of your people and they will take care of your trajectory.