Good to Great Leadership in a Nutshell

by Jim Collins

Good is the enemy of great. Greatness is not primarily a function of circumstance. Greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline. Why do some companies, organizations and their leaders truly thrive in the face of immense uncertainty and chaos? When you are buffeted by distraction, what distinguishes those who perform exceptionally well? We are great by choice. The answer is not what happens to you, it’s the choices, decisions, actions, and disciplines that you make that separate the good from the great. 


Life is people. What distinguishes the good leaders from the great leaders is the ability to get the right people in the right seats on the bus. If you get the right people on the bus you will get the best outcomes. When you are facing a challenge, uncertainty, or a question, change every “what” question into a “who” question. It’s not about your strategy as you climb the mountain, its who you have climbing with you. Who will get you where you need to go? There is still leadership in all of this. We have to ask the question what distinguishes those exceptional leaders? It’s not personality. Our culture reveres personality and charismatic forces. Personality is not the same as leadership. 

Most of the great leaders of our time don’t have great personalities. “When the going gets weird, the weird becomes the CEO.” Leaders are qualified because they have the courage to respond to the call to do something. It’s not about personality, it’s about humility. Leadership begins with humility. It’s a humility that is reflected in an unrelenting will to see something done. 

How Do the Mighty Leaders Fall? 

A great fall happens in a series of stages.

Failure starts with arrogance.

The arrogance to think we can neglect our calling, our people, and to believe. Just because our intentions are good and our purpose is noble, all of our decisions won’t be wise ones. 

Bad decisions taken with good intentions are still bad decisions.

Over-reaching and an undisciplined desire for more is what leads the mighty to fall. 

3 Behaviors Allow Leaders to Thrive 

1- Fanatic Discipline

The more uncertain and chaotic your environment, you need a “20 mile march.” You need self-control in an out-of-control world. 

2 – Empirical Creativity

At times of uncertainty, we often look to other people for clues and cues. Great leaders use their creativity married to empirical data to make decisions. They don’t try to overly-innovate, they figure out what actually works. Fire bullets, then fire cannonballs. True innovation happens with empirical creativity.

3 – Productive Paranoia

You need to be prepared for what you can’t predict. Channel anxiety about the future into productive paranoia. The only mistakes you learn from are the ones you survive. 

Enduring Greatness 

The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change, innovate, or grow; it’s chronic inconsistency. What can we be consistent with for a long period of time? Our values. Preserve the core and stimulate progress. Hold onto your values. There’s a difference between values and practices. Change your practices but keep your values. Change how you do it but don’t change why. What are your core values? 

A 10 Point To-Do List (Directly from Collin’s Good to Great Book) 

1 – Run the Good to Great Diagnostic on your enterprise, on your team and you.

2– Identify how many key seats you have open on your bus.

3 – Build a personal board of directors.

4 – Get your personal hedgehog right.

5 – Set a 20-mile march and stick to it.

6 – Fire bullets, then cannonballs.

7 – Turn off electronic gadgets for 2 days every 2 weeks. Disciplined people engaged in disciplined thought in a chaotic world need space for calm thinking.

8 – Put a “Stop Doing” list on your personal “To Do” list.

9 – Double your reach to people half your age always. Change your practices without abandoning your core values.

10 – Set a BHAG {Big Hairy Audacious Goal} that will make you useful. 

Make yourself useful. 

We face dark, uncertain times. We don’t know what’s coming next. “How do you make yourself useful?” The path out of darkness begins with people who will decide how to make themselves useful.

Purchase Good to Great by Jim Collins HERE.  

Notes are produced by Tim Schraeder from Catalyst Atlanta Conference. Used by permission of Catalyst.

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