Having a good business is wonderful, but how do you take that business from good to great? It starts with leadership.
Right now, we can see how leadership is essential. Change will come, whether you are prepared or not and often comes with great challenges. That is exactly what the world is now facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. How we respond to this challenge will affect what our businesses will look like when this situation finally resolves. This is definitely an unusual time that will test many business leaders, but those leaders ordinarily face challenges and tests every single day.
That’s why I was so pleased to see that the keynote speaker at an event I attended would be Jim Collins, noted author of many business books, including the best-selling Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. This influential book details why come companies can transition from being good companies to great companies while most businesses fail at this effort.
Leaders play a key role…if not the key role, in taking the organization to that higher level. If you are thinking that leaders than can make this leap are always charismatic and have powerful personalities, you would be mistaken. Good-to-great leaders are humble and that humility enables them to put themselves into service to something that is bigger than themselves. The goal of a good-to-great leader is to “build something great, but not for my own aggrandizement.”
The Three Stages of Discipline
Jim acknowledges that building a great company is not just a matter of luck, but is actually based on discipline and he detailed three specific disciplines in his presentation:
Stage #1 – Disciplined People
Good-to-great leaders know how to recognize the right people for the right position and how to support those people. Jim dispelled one of the myths of business…that of motivating your people. If you have the right people, and you still say “I have to motivate you,” you have underestimated those people. Leaders should think of themselves as a bus driver who has the right people on the bus and that those people are in the right seats. That leader/driver is also responsible for making sure the wrong people leave the bus. You, as a leader may have a great vision, but as Jim notes, “Great vision is irrelevant without great people.” Leaders have to make rigorous people decisions.
Stage #2 – Disciplined Thought
It is essential to deal honestly and forthrightly with the bad as well as the good. Jim recommends that companies have Brutal Fact Mondays, where leaders and their teams sit down and ask what brutal facts the company is facing. As he notes, “If we do not confront facts, they will confront us. Failure to confront facts is a precursor to catastrophic decline. Right now, most companies are facing a truly brutal reality, so it is more important than ever to face what is coming and see how to come out successfully on the other side. In good times, it is hard to tell the difference between great and mediocre companies; but when times are bad, great companies shine out. Confront brutal facts with faith in your team and your company and you will survive.
Brutal facts also can mean letting go of things you are good at…but not the best at. Jim suggests asking what truly drives your company’s economic engine and focus on that. Anything you can’t be the best at should be left aside. Be positive about what you should focus on and ruthless about what you should not do.
Stage #3 – Disciplined Action
We all know the power of momentum, in politics, in business and in life. But how do you build momentum? According to Jim, growth is at some level about a cycle of momentum, and growth is about people first…your people. If you don’t have enough of the right people, your growth will be limited or you will grow beyond your ability and the lack of the right people will lead to failure. Building momentum is essentially a series of good decisions, executed well by disciplined people over time. When dealing with a constantly changing environment, discipline is more important than ever. Discipline is determined by the consistency of action.
Building Greatness to Last
Although not a discipline, Jim regards this as Stage #4 in moving from good to great. The first three stages will get you there, but then what do you do? The reality is not all companies endure once they’ve achieved success. To make success last, Jim suggests that leaders practice productive paranoia. Since the odds of survival are not in anyone’s favor, those who succeed are always afraid of failure. Productive paranoids are always thinking that bad times are coming; but they also anticipate what is most likely to change, not tomorrow, but fifteen to twenty years from now and what the company needs to do to be ready.
One final suggestion from Jim that all leaders need to ponder is to acknowledge the difference between lasting and being worthy of lasting. Good-to-great companies look to preserve the core meaning and core values of what the company stands for beyond that of making money. As this most respected business visionary concluded, “One of the highest noble professions is business done honorably. Never forget that the best people want to do the hardest things.”