WHAT MAKES A GOOD TO GREAT LEADER?

As I wrote earlier this week about the hallmark's of Sir Alex Ferguson's leadership philosophy, I was reminded of one of my favourite books on leadership,  Good To Great. Written by one of the foremost management consultants in the world, Jim Collins, Good To Great aims to answer two simple questions. Can a good company become a great company? And what does it take to become a good to great leader? WHAT MAKES A GOOD TO GREAT LEADER?

It's this second question - what makes a good to great leader - which I'd like to focus on in this article. A small handful of companies were founded by leaders who instilled the seeds of greatness early on. George Merck, David Packard and Walt Disney spring to mind. However the overwhelming majority of leaders wake up partway through their business journey and realise that they're good - but they're not great leaders.

Steve Jobs became a great leader AFTER he had honed his leadership skills at Pixar. Fired from the company he started, Steve Jobs was sacked after the Apple board concluded that he was so disruptive in pursuing his own projects that he intentionally undermined everybody else. At Pixar, Jobs worked with two of the world's most creative leaders, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, where he realised the benefits of nurturing great teams. (You'll recognise this theme from my article The 8 Hallmarks Of Sir Alex Ferguson's Leadership Philosophy). Jobs learnt the hard way that he didn't have to do it all himself, and that his vision was best served by surrounding himself with leaders like Tim Cook, Jonny Ive and Ron Johnson who moderated his impact on others.

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In business, it's important we continually sharpen the saw, and work out how we can improve. Reading is a great way of sharpening the saw. A book I return to over and over again is Jim Collins' 'Good To Great.' Because the book asks - and answers - the question how can I become a good to great leader?

Re-reading Good To Great reminds me of these 6 key leadership principles:

  1. Good To Great leaders are a blend of personal humility and professional will. They embody what Collins calls Level 5 Leadership. First and foremost they're ambitious for their company. They're not show horses or celebrity leaders which are in fact negatively correlated with building good to great organisations. I'm looking at you Trump! They're self-effacing and understated, whilst simultaneously driven to produce sustained results.
  2. Good To Great leaders ensure they have the right people on the bus, and they get the wrong people off the bus - quickly. They pay meticulous attention to their recruitment processes, hiring outstanding people and building a talented, highly self-motivated management team.
  3. Good To Great leaders confront the brutal reality of their business, whilst retaining faith that they can and will prevail, whatever the difficulties and uncertainties. They acknowledge and tackle the weaknesses within their business. And they deal with external threats head on - like changing technology, new challengers entering the marketplace etc.
  4. Good To Great leaders focus on their core business. This forms the basis of what Jim Collins calls the Hedgehog Concept: a deep understanding of what you as a business leader are deeply passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what will drive your company's economic engine.
  5. Good To Great leaders instil a culture of great discipline. This is not the same as bureaucracy. It's about disciplined people engaging in disciplined thought and taking disciplined action within a consistent framework.
  6. Good To Great leaders understand that the best business results come from pushing 'the flywheel,' until it gains momentum, and hits the point of breakthrough. They recognise this takes huge and consistent effort. Which is why they’re not looking for a miracle moment, a magic pill or a new saviour. Nor do they embrace fads. Which is not to say they don't embrace innovation.

By following these 6 leadership principles, Steve Jobs became a good to great leader. As a result, he left Apple in the strongest position of any company in the world, and passed his baton to Tim Cook, another good to great leader.

Over the summer, I'll be re-reading Good To Great. I strongly recommend you add a copy to your summer reading list.

Question: Have you read Jim Collins’ Good To Great? If so, what were your key takeaways? Which business book do you go back to again and again? I love to read your feedback so please share in the comments box below. 

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