Good to Great Leadership

I have re-discovered another leadership gem, a book by Jim Collins where he explores why and how some organisations sit at good whilst others leapfrog into great. To reach his finding Jim worked with 21 research associates in groups of 4 to 6 at a time over a period of nearly 5 years. The study involved a wide range of both qualitative and quantitative analyses and examined 1,435 Fortune 500 companies. On the qualitative side this team of researchers, conducted interviews with key executives, looked at internal strategy documents and external analyst reports. On the quantitative front they ran financial metrics, examined executive compensation, compared patterns of management turnover, restructuring, and what these effects were on acquisitions and divestitures in performance. Once synthesised the results enabled them to identify what the Good to Great transformers were.

This is what they found Great leadership do differently when it comes to their people.

They start with the First Who… then What. Namely: –

  • Great get the right people in, the wrongs ones out and only then work out where the destination is; Great, focus on WHO before the WHAT, before the vision, before strategy, before organisational structures and before tactics. They are rigorously disciplined in this application;
  • In comparison, Good hire the people as helpers to the genius or that charismatic leader. The Genius leaves, the model fails;
  • Whilst Great leadership are rigorous which is not to be confused with ruthless when it comes to people decisions. They do not rely on redundancies or restructures to improve performance, they consistently manage performance.

What Great companies mean by being rigorous when it comes to people decisions, is this: –

  1. When in doubt don’t hire, keep looking. Or limit your growth until you have the right talent in place.
  2. Before you change the person first make sure they are not a Right person doing the wrong job.
  3. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities not your biggest problems. Or if you sell off your problems make sure you don’t sell off your best people with them.

Unexpected Findings:

  1. Bonuses and incentive payments is not an attempt to shift behaviours from people to get them to do the right things rather, Great companies use these to keep the right people engaged;
  2. Great do not use the adage of “People are your most important asset” rather one of, find The Right People.
  3. Defining the Right People is all about values, character traits, innate strengths versus specific knowledge, background or skills.

I partner with a number of remarkable Strengths Finder Practitioners who will work with you to build your Great People blueprint. If you are interested in hearing more contact me directly on

Photo Credits [Greg Miller]

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