Episode 216: Jim Collins – How To Go From Good To Great

Jim Collins is a student and teacher of leadership and what makes great companies tick. Having invested a quarter century of research into the topic, he has authored or co-authored six books that have sold in total more than ten million copies worldwide. They include: GOOD TO GREAT, the #1 bestseller, which examines why some companies and leaders make the leap to superior results, along with its companion work GOOD TO GREAT AND THE SOCIAL SECTORS; the enduring classic BUILT TO LAST, which explores how some leaders build companies that remain visionary for generations; HOW THE MIGHTY FALL, which delves into how once-great companies can self-destruct; and most recently, GREAT BY CHOICE, which is about thriving in chaos – why some do, and others don’t – and the leadership behaviors needed in a world beset by turbulence, disruption, uncertainty, and dramatic change.

Driven by a relentless curiosity, Jim began his research and teaching career on the faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992. In 1995, he founded a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, where he conducts research and engages in Socratic dialogue with CEOs and senior leadership teams.

Jim holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematical sciences and an MBA from Stanford University, and honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Colorado and the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.

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Episode 216: Jim Collins – How To Go From Good To Great

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The Learning Leader Show

“You seem to focus a lot on the question, “How to be successful?” That is the wrong question. The right question is “How can I be useful?” — Peter Drucker sharing advice with Jim Collins

Show Notes:

  • Sustained Excellence:
    • Never go to a meeting without writing down 5 questions prior to the meeting
    • Always follow up the meeting with at least a page of notes — Share those with your mentor
  • What made you say yes to The Learning Leader Show after 2 1/2 years?
    • It requires intense focus to prepare
    • This is a teaching moment
    • Only say yes if it’s going to be impactful. The team determined this show was the right place to do that
  • Always ask yourself — “How can I make myself useful to the world?”
    • This was advice originally given to him by Peter Drucker
  • A great teacher can change your life in 30 seconds — Peter Drucker did that for Jim
  • “I am constitutionally unemployable” — Why Jim feels this about himself
  • His curiosity has led to the success and most importantly… Great questions like:
    • How to turn something into an enduring great company?
    • How someone or a company can go from Good To Great?
  • Jim most admired Peter Drucker when he was 35 years old…
    • The story of their first meeting and how Peter was the curious one… Kept peppering Jim with questions to start the conversation (much like Jim did to me to start this conversation)
    • “The ultimate zen master with bamboo stick”
  • Drucker – “It seems to me that you spend a lot of time worrying if you will survive. You probably will survive. You seem to focus a lot on the question, “how to be successful?” That is the wrong question. The right question is “How to be useful?”
  • What would it have cost Jim to not publish Good To Great after he finished the manuscript? — More than $100m.  He had to get it out in the world.  He felt it was his responsibility to do so…
  • Another great mentor said to Jim… “When seeking an entrepreneurial path… Cut off all other options and GO.”
  • “Everything is driven by by questions”
  • Can a good company become a great company? How?
  • Level 5 Leader
    • Starts with confronting the brutal facts
    • Personal humility and professional will
    • Not what, but who — Get the right people on the bus
  • Does not happen in one fell swoop or a leap. It happens over time. Flywheel — Create momentum
  • Understand the hedgehog concept — An expert in one thing… Knows it very well
    • 3 Parts of the Hedgehog concept
      • Deeply passionate about it
      • Encoded for it… You’re really good at it. An expert
      • Economically, you can make money from it
  • Level 5 Leaders:
    • What cause do I serve?
    • Humility to serve… It’s not about them
    • Willful — Able to make difficult decisions
  • For the best Level 5 Leaders… How do they sustain it?
    • It’s easier for them because they understand their personal hedgehog — It helps them remain renewed after many years
  • “Measured Risk” vs. “Burn The Boats”
    • Fire Bullets… Then Cannon Balls
      • For Jim, this was his first two books + his time as a professor at Stanford before he decided to leave to start his own company
  • You must navigate your path.  It doesn’t mean you take unfounded risk… Fire bullets first, then cannonballs
    • “If you never fire a cannonball, you’ll never make it.”
  • “BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)”
    • How to write a good one?
    • Take calibrated, calculated risk —
    • Have things to keep you alive even if everything goes wrong
      • Productive Paranoia
  • Validation – What are points of success you can look to?
    • Jim’s wife Joann committing to winning an Ironman race… She was a consultant at the time.  She was also a runner. She tried biking and was very good at it.  Eventually she practiced, took measured risks, and won the Ironman race
  • “If you were a trial attorney and had to win the case, what evidence would you use?”
  • The Flywheel principle and putting it to use for Jeff Bezos and the Amazon team — How could they build momentum? After Jim met with Jeff Bezos and his leadership team in 2001, Amazon executives were elated; according to several members of the team at the time, they felt that, after five years, they finally understood their own business.Most important for young leaders — Jim’s advice
    • Who do you want to mentor you? Who do you want to mentor?
    • Who do you want to be your friends? Who do you want to work with? Who do you want to spend time with?
    • The most important question is WHO
    • You don’t need to answer WHAT until you answer WHO

“The most important question is WHO. First WHO, then WHAT. Who will be your mentor? Who will be your friends? Who will you help? Who will you spend time with? You don’t need to answer what until well after you’ve answered WHO.”

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Episode edited by the great J Scott Donnell

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