Book Report: Good To Great

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Level 5 leaders display a workmanlike diligence – more plow horse than show horse.” – Jim Collins

This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three lessons from the book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, that I found impactful.  This also serves as a way for me to recall influential points in the book.

I went into this book with few expectations.  I picked up my copy at a second hand shop years ago just because it was a title and author I recognized.  Hardcover books are a weakness of mine. The book was written circa 2001, so some of the material is a tad dated.  Maybe one of the biggest criticisms is one of the “good to great” examples went out of business since then: Circuit City.  However, I still found the main messages mostly timeless.

However, three topics that did alter my perspective were:

  1. First Who…Then What.  

“We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy.  We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it.”

I have generally hired for horsepower.  A students are generally A students in any setting.  I have worked in a couple businesses that are obsessively focused on only hiring A+ players.  While this message can be a touch self-serving, I will say having the right people on the team makes a huge difference, and having the wrong people is such a drag.  So, spending the time on hiring is extremely important.

  1. A Culture of Discipline. 

“When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy.  When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy.  When you have disciplined action, you don’t need excessive controls.  When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great performance.”

This is something I wrestle with frequently but thought this was a helpful way of thinking about it.  I generally have found that good people armed with the right goals and information end up generating outsized accomplishments.  My motto has been – hire good people and mostly try not stay out of their way.  And, this seems to be a similar thought process.  Also, I have never seen dictatorial leadership styles as very scalable or robust.  Instead, they tend to generate fear, resentment, and an outsized focus on politics.

  1. Hedgehogs vs. Foxes. 

“The key is to understand what your organization can be the best in the world at, and equally important what it cannot be the best at – no what it “wants” to be the best at.  The Hedgehog Concept is not a goal, strategy, or intention; it is an understanding.”

“Strategy per se did not separate the good-to-great companies from the comparison companies.  Both sets had strategies, and there is no evidence that the good-to-great companies spend more time on strategic planning than the comparison companies.

“No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop.  There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution.”

I thought this was illuminating as well and sort of dovetailed with the first point.  Do not go looking for some silver bullet strategy.  Figure out why you win, and just grind on it.  There are no short cuts.