by Steve Adubato, PhD
In Jim Collins’ book, “Great by Choice”, he says, “We cannot predict the future, but we can create it…Life is uncertain, the future unknown. This is neither good nor bad. It just is, like gravity. Yet the task remains: how to master our own fate…”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, no truer words have ever been spoken. “Great by Choice” is a follow up book to Collins’ classic work, “Good to Great”, in which he examines companies and organizations that stand out in the marketplace. In “Great by Choice,” Collins does much of the same, but he also looks at some of the traits that “good to great” leaders possess in uncertain times.
One of the most important ways in which truly great leaders excel is that instead of reacting to what happens around them, they anticipate that things will happen and prepare accordingly. They work to create their own destiny as much as possible by designing plans and executing them with tremendous passion and drive. They understand that unanticipated events and circumstances will arise, but it doesn’t stop them from moving forward, even if they adapt and shift gears when necessary. Further, Collins found that these great leaders don’t simply accept change or manage it, but they thrive on it, understanding that chaos and confusion are unavoidable in business.
But of all the leadership traits that Collins identified in “Great by Choice”, it is discipline, or, as he described, “consistency of action”, that stands out for me. The leadership discipline Collins refers to does not mean doing the same routine every day or being overly structured or regimented. Rather, it is about having the intensity, passion, and attention to detail to sweat the small stuff when it comes to performance standards and organizational goals. As Collins describes, it is about “having the inner will to do whatever it takes to create a great outcome, no matter how difficult.”
What is fascinating to me is that Collins’ conclusion about great leadership in “Great by Choice” flies in the face of the axiom “everything in moderation”. When it comes to truly great leadership, particularly in uncertain and turbulent times, moderation is overrated. It can even be a problem if the people on your team don’t feel your intensity and passion about a particular goal or initiative in order to be motivated and inspired to greatness.
I’m convinced that truly great leaders, as Collins also found, are in fact relentless, or as he states, “maniacal”, when it comes to achieving organizational goals. They are consistently persistent. They never give up their excellent standards for their own performance, as well as the performance of their team members. They don’t make excuses and don’t accept them from others. They are fanatics when it comes to customer service and execution. They send e-mails to their team members at 3 a.m. about an idea that has come to them, or about an unfinished piece of business that they want answered first thing in the morning. (Great leadership is not a 9 to 5 job.)
Further, these great leaders are just as intense, and yes, maniacal, when it comes to ensuring that each team member is not only held accountable, but is coached and challenged to his or her potential. The reason Jim Collins’ description of great leadership is so important is that so many professionals think they belong in positions to manage and lead others, but have little to no idea of what it takes to do this in times of uncertainty and turbulence.