Good to GREAT Leadership

It has been a little over a year since I left my corporate job and started my own coaching and consulting business. Now outside the 4 walls of the same company I spent 25 years, I have a much broader perspective of what companies are going through these days. The far reaching impacts of this VUCA world is real and transformational change feels like the norm. So many companies are trying to build a story of greatness in their industry so they can sustain the next 10, 20, 30 years of success. It has me thinking about a book I have picked up a few times over the years, Good to Great by Jim Collins.

If you aren’t familiar, Collins’ research follows 1400+ companies over 40 years, narrowing down to 11 who achieved long term success by their ability to solve an equation: GOOD + X = GREAT. The study identifies “X” as those characteristics found in companies who made a significant transition and returned to sustained success, outperforming their industry by leaps and bounds.

I still find myself referencing this book but now with my clients. With my new perspective – a unique vantage point & renewed mindset – I am sharing my take-aways and how I interpret the lessons in this book for companies and leaders striving for GREAT.

  • Unexpected Leadership Traits…at the top of the list for leaders at GREAT companys was humility.  Interesting.  GREAT leaders lead for the company and  want success for the company, not for themselves or just their function.  They are modest and convicted to address tough problems.  And finally, GREAT leaders are quick to praise others for success and take personal responsibility for failure.  What is most interesting is that these traits are described in the research as “unexpected”…ok, I will come back to that in a minute.
  • Right People on the Bus…build the right teams as there isn’t success in the reliance on one person. Focus on hiring the right fit. Stretch your GREAT people and give them opportunity to leverage their strengths. Encourage them to have balance – family, community, self. GREAT employees have a deep commitment to the company but have balance with the important things in their lives. Among the 11, this was described as a “unique” process.
  • Let’s Get Real …the practice of asking questions and helping people feel included in decisions is the norm. Forums to allow people to communicate quickly, openly and honestly is expected. Teams face “brutal facts” but maintain the vision and have faith in where things are headed. Change is hard and these GREAT teams maintained the faith to prevail!   
  • Culture of Discipline …an inspired culture that supports people in being disciplined in thoughts and actions. Well-ordered in priorities and self-disciplined in execution. GREAT teams are naturally inclined to follow a system or process and this is considered freeing and an enabler to growth.

Rinse & repeat.  For GREAT companies, these characteristics are embedded and help avoid the mediocrity that can set in when you feel like you have reached “great”.  This is when the bar is raised…a mindset of continuous improvement. That is it!

Reflecting on this book again, I share my explanation of what stands out for those companies & leaders who have sustained GREAT.

As I work with different leaders and teams, I often see many of these “great” characteristics. When there is a desire to lead with heart, to engage directly and show compassion and care for their teams, GREAT leadership traits aren’t so unexpected. While it is true that firing on all cylinders across the full list is what makes the equation hard and unique, leaders I work with have become mindful of what it takes to develop their personal best and the best in their employees.

More than likely, you are in a position to model these behaviors in your own organization and to elevate your leadership to help lead your company to where it aspires to be. In a change fatigued world, where we tend to focus on what still needs to be done – to meet financial goals, timelines and customer expectations – I challenge you to think about how you can leverage your strengths to demonstrate these characteristics and help solve the equation, GOOD + X = GREAT for your organization. 

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