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08 2012

Jim Collins Returns With More On Leadership

Syndicated from: balance-AND-results

It’s been nine years since Collins’ excellent book on leadership, Good to Great. That followed the successful “Built to Last” that he said he should have written to second, dealing as it did with the strength provided by values that arise from great leadership. Now it’s Great by Choice with Morten T. Hansen of Berkeley – on organization strategy more than leadership. This book is going to be far more controversial since he hasn’t fully updated his list of successful companies despite the surface reversals of organizations that exemplified success or lack of it in Good to Great. IBM, for instance, doesn’t look so superior to Apple as it did in 2002, in fact, almost the reverse. if you ignore the likelihood that IBM will sustain well and Apple may not find more fad items to keep ahead with. Some reviewers find the reversal of fortunes casts overpowering doubt on the new book’s conclusions. Logically it should cast just as much in retrospect over Good to Great. If the top companies then didn’t last sufficiently perhaps that theory was flawed, too. We all praised it immensely and most reviewers haven’t mentioned this and likely won’t want to admit they were wrong before. They’ll merely slam the new work. We put too much emphasis on short term results. Both books build on so much common logic I can accept circumstances change and shift companies’ fortunes up and down without invalidating the general principles. In fact, this up and down seesawing reinforces many of the points in both – not surprising since many conclusions are the same and lead to similar strategic advice. The subtitle, “Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All,” certainly recognizes forces beyond anyone’s control have to be understood. Neither fully answers the question Collins admitted ducking in Good to Great: can individuals develop the skills they suggested? In this one he notes we can at least apply effective strategies if not change our own behavior or predict exactly how we will impact. The first part of the book usefully debunks common myths about leadership and strategy. They find successful companies, hence their leaders, are no more or less risk-takers that average and no more or less visionary. So does that invalidate Good to Great? Not likely. Leaders still make the decisions that work and it still takes a certain type of leader to be humble enough to recognize luck’s role. He finds successful companies are not so much less innovative as they tend to press forward fewer innovations than less successful companies, which means they may have as many ideas, but develop them more carefully. The same with speed as agility – they move more slowly on average, starting small and building carefully and solidly before picking up speed, which may end up being faster in the long run. That’s definitely different from the ‘speedy’ advice usually given that motivates so many CEOs to push ‘flavor of the month’ as fast as they can. This struck a note when I read the title of the ING Direct CEO’s newest book mentioned in my last post – Rock, Then Roll – start solidly, then and only then build speed is how it hit me. Collins and Hansen go further with related suggestions. Following up they find successful companies tend to start with less radical change to meet changing circumstances – quite the opposite, they may dig in and stick to proven values. By doing these things they generate more luck – which fits with the concept that luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity. Each new changed environment generates about as many opportunities as it shuts down old paradigms. Yes, you have to operate differently day-to-day, but if your overall strategies and values are sound, they should work in both up and down circumstances. something that certainly revealed weaknesses in a great many organizations. As they say, it’s what you do with the luck you get since everyone is exposed to the forces of luck. Whether you feel it’s good or bad often depends on how prepared you are. Great by Choice definitely emphasizes such choices and more. One thing that stands out for me is that the advice really hasn’t changed from the earlier books despite the impact of the continuing recessionary economics we face. Their new message – those who develop effective leadership cultures and behaviors will thrive and sustain themselves through difficult luck and times when those occur. Whether we carp over their particular examples, this makes a lot of sense as we look across the economy generally. Some operators always emerge stronger rather than weaker because they were better prepared and positioned themselves for down as well as up times. Bookmark and share this post More »

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