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Good to Great

by Phil Dourado March 15, 2010
Book Author: 
Good to Great

Some of the below is adapted from the free sample book summary from - take a look here if you want to consider signing up for their summaries, which are very good. The rest of the summary, below, I added in myself.

Only room here for a few learning points from the book, so if you've read Good to Great yourself, why not add a point that you found powerful, using the comments section, below. These reviews are always better if they draw on each of our insights rather than just the reviewer.

One thing I didn't mention below as I don't like it is the thing chief executives like to mention from this book, which is about making sure the right people are on the bus. I know CEOs like this as it reinforces the idea of they are driving the bus and everyone else is on it, but I really don't want to be a passenger on a bus driven by someone else, do you?

I don't think that metaphor works and it bothers me the way the phrase 'make sure the right people are on the bus' has spread so widely. Do argue with that - I'm sure there's a weakness in how I am looking at the whole bus thing. Use the comment section, below.... Here's the review/selected learning points from the book:

The Five Levels of Leadership

Every good-to-great company studied by Jim Collins and his associates for this book had 'Level 5' leadership during pivotal transition years, where

Level 1 is a Highly Capable Individual
Level 2 is a Contributing Team Member
Level 3 is a Competent Manager
Level 4 is an Effective Leader and

Level 5 are executives who build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

Note that you find Level Five Leaders all across the organization, regardless of their job title and seniority in the hierarchy.

Put your ego in your pocket

Level 5 leaders display a compelling modesty, says Collins, combined with personal courage. By 'modesty' he doesn't mean they are shrinking violets. He means they don't expect all the action to revolve around them, or to dominate a room or a meeting. They have 'presence' - the fact that they are with you in a meeting or a one to one is significant and has an impression - but they don't  allow their presence to change the structure or dynamic so that everything gravitates towards them.

When they aren't with you, they are usually sticking up for you somewhere if you are their direct reports - providing air cover if you try something new and it goes wrong: they take responsibility when it goes wrong. You get the credit when it goes right.

So, that's what he means by modest - he means 'ego lite' and their attention and focus is on you succeeding, and the organization succeeding, not 'they' (the leader) being seen to succeed as part of their own career development or profile raising. The latter happens as an output of the former - their own success comes from the success of their people in supporting the business.

From 'me' to 'we'

It's what Warren Bennis and Bill George call 'moving from 'me' to 'we' in how you think and act - that's what marks out a Level 5 leader. They revel in the success of their colleagues in pushing the business forward and do everything they can to get barriers out of their way and equip them with the resources, training, tools, inspiration, insight, support they need to succeed.

By 'they' (the leader), I obviously mean you when you are leading. Sometimes we are led, sometimes we are leading.

In contrast, two thirds of the comparison companies in the study that led to the writing of the book had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.

Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results. They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions. But, they clearly care.

Potential Level 5 leaders exist all around us, we just have to know what to look for.

Debate vigorously, then unite

Good-to-great management teams consist of people who debate vigorously in search of the best answers, yet who unify behind decisions, regardless of parochial interests.

There is no link between executive compensation and the shift from good to great. The purpose of compensation is not to ‘motivate' the right behaviors from the wrong people, but to get and keep the right people in the first place.

The Hedgehog Concept

In Good To Great, Jim Collins quotes Isiah Berlin about Hedgehogs and Foxes. "Whilst the fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing". Great companies, Collins and his research team found, were mostly hedgehogs. They had come to the realisation that they had a simple and clear purpose. The Hedgehog Concept says that your core purpose sits at the intersection of three circles:

  1. What you can be best in the world at, realistically, and what you cannot be best in the world at
  2. What drives your economic engine
  3. What you are deeply passionate about

The role of values and core purpose

Enduring great companies don't exist merely to deliver returns to shareholders. In a truly great company, profits and cash flow are absolutely essential for life, but they are not the very point of life.

Discover your core values and purpose beyond simply making money and combine this with the dynamic of preserving the core values.