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What I learned from Great by Choice

BookIn his latest book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins examines why some companies thrive in tumultuous times and extreme environments and why others don't. It's a fantastic read; I highly recommend it.

Collins, his co-author Morten T. Hansen and a team of 20 researchers discovered after 9 years of research that the best leaders were not bigger risk takers, more visionary, or more creative than those who failed to achieve greatness in equally challenging circumstances.

What was it then?

"They were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid," Collins says. But it's not those 3 qualities independent of each other that's the key. It's the combined effect of all three that makes the difference. It's the "and" principle at work. The best leaders in the worst times are disciplined AND creative AND what Collins calls "productively paranoid" -- in other words, taking precautions before the storm hits, remaining ever vigilant, and "bounding" the risk.

  • Who do you think of here locally, in a leadership position, who demonstrates all three of those traits in combination?
  • Think of the leaders we've seen come and go over the past five years as we've ridden out this historic recession. Were those who didn't make it lacking in at least one of those combined characteristics?
  • How do these three qualities apply to leaders within your own organization or industry?

I remember the first time I saw the cover of Collins' book at Barnes & Noble last year and was struck by the word "choice" in the title. Choice? Surely Collins' research doesn't show that some leaders choose to be great, and some not.

As Collins explains in his epilogue, "Greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstances; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline." It's about taking action in a disciplined way regardless of what's going on in the markets or the environment. A quote by Ron Serino in Great by Choice sums it up well: "Freely chosen, discipline is absolute freedom."

(By the way, Jim Collins is speaking in Des Moines in June at the ABI Taking Care of Business Conference!)

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