by Steve Adubato, PhD
In his best-selling book, "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don't," Jim Collins and his team of researchers analyze what separates the average from the exceptional. Collins studied hundreds of organizations and found that a variety of factors, including organizational culture, the ability to "confront brutal facts" and open and honest communication made the difference.
But more than anything else, going from "good to great" according to Collins is mostly about exceptional leadership. The author identifies five levels of leadership competency from Level One being a highly capable individual to Level Five being a leader who "builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will."
While Collins wasn't looking for great leaders, he found that in virtually every case where a company made the transition to greatness, these extraordinary leaders were part of the equation. Consider this more detailed description of these leaders who more of us should aspire to be.
--"Good to great" leaders were less interested in their own individual compensation package than they were for the bottom line of their organization. No Dennis Koslowski's here. In fact, many of these leaders gave up lucrative or highly visible executive "perks" because they felt it would hurt their team.
--These leaders talked less about themselves than they did about others on the team. They had a compelling sense of modesty. Unlike Donald Trump who seems obsessed with the "I" approach to communication ("I'm the biggest real estate developer in New York City…") "good to great" leaders often refer to "we" when communicating. They see the bigger picture as opposed to simply seeing the organizations' success as a reflection of their own individual efforts.
--Collins found that these exceptional leaders take responsibility when things go wrong. They didn't point fingers. Ironically, these leaders shared credit with others, but were inclined to put the blame on themselves.
--The book profiles people who plan for their own succession. Many executives hold on to the reins and the corresponding perks for too long. Less than great companies have leaders who didn't believe the organization can thrive without them. In his book, Collins talks about former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, who kept postponing his retirement. The joke at Chrysler was that Iacocca stood for "I Am Chairman of Chrysler Corporation Always." Collins says Iacocca held on too long without developing a top-notch replacement. Subsequently, the organization suffered. Conversely, Level Five leaders understand that their run as CEO is not a lifetime gig.
--Collins found great leaders are driven to produce results and doing whatever has to be done to get there. More specifically, he highlights leaders who fired family members who were not carrying their weight in the organization. He argues good to great leaders didn't let family get in the way of organizational achievement. Exceptional leaders understand the big picture and are obsessed (in a healthy way) with productivity. They aren't afraid to make some people, including family and long-time friends, uncomfortable with making a decision that must be made. Being popular is not their number one priority.
--Finally, the leaders highlighted in "Good to Great" were modest and self-effacing. They were often soft-spoken. Ironically, many of them were not the greatest platform speakers. They didn't always motivate by giving rousing speeches. According to Collins, many of them were more "plow horse" as compared to "show horse."
The good (make that GREAT) news is that these Level Five leaders took a long time to reach this point. That means there is still hope for the rest of us.