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Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't

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Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins

8 Must-Read Tips on How to Go from Good to Great

When a mild-mannered lawyer was named CEO of Kimberley-Clark, many thought he was destined to fail (including himself). However, during his twenty-year run as CEO, he managed to produce a stunning transformation of the company, launching it to the status of the worldwide leading paper-based consumer products business.

Meanwhile, a former Gillette CEO managed to fight against a buy-out, putting the company ahead of his own needs. The popular Sensor and Mach3 Gillette products were saved from getting scraped all because this CEO avoided the takeover and drove Gillette to greatness.

What do these incredible business leaders have in common? Two things:

  1. They are both featured as case studies in Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.
  2. They refused to let their companies be “good enough” and instead aimed for greatness. Somehow these CEOs knew that “good is the enemy of great,” and worked to shake things up—with amazing results.

So, how does one go from good to great? Collins details the answer to this question throughout his book. No matter what you’re looking to propel to greatness—a local book club, an elementary school, or a multi-billion dollar company—this book provides the keys to success. Each of the chapters in Good to Great are broken down into the main concepts. Check out these major takeaways from each chapter:

Lead with Level 5 Leadership

The right kind of leadership is imperative to greatness—yet, it is not the be-all end-all. A strong leader is only as great as the team he or she works with, and this is something Collins expands upon throughout the book. Overall, what Collins refers to as Level 5 leaders are an embodiment of contradicting ideologies and personalities. A Level 5 leader is self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and sometimes even shy—yet they have an unwavering will or determination to succeed and to take charge. According to Collin’s research, celebrity personas and high-profile leaders—those who bask in the limelight—don’t cut the mustard.

Establish Who First…Then What

The first order of business for a Level 5 leader is to build the right team for the company. These leaders didn’t achieve greatness with some incredible new idea or project—they focused on “getting the right people on the bus.” Sometimes this would mean hiring from outside the industry in an attempt to gain a new perspective. It would also mean letting go of the wrong people within the organization.

Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith)

A Level 5 leader knows the uphill battle they are facing—they are not delusional about the challenge or what is required to get there. Yet, in spite of knowing the full truth of the situation, they never lose faith and have confidence they will succeed.

Incorporate the Hedgehog Concept (Simplicity within Three Circles)

“Just because something is your core business…does not necessarily mean you can be the best in the world at it.” While this may sound disparaging, Collins urges companies to find the sweet spot between Nucor’s Three Circles—which include passion, ability to become the best, and economic feasibility.

Adopt a Culture of Discipline

When you have smart, savvy, disciplined people working on your team, then there is no need for hierarchy or stifling management practices. An entrepreneurial-type culture will help push the company towards greatness.

Use Technology Accelerators

Companies that think differently about the types of technologies available typically end up in the good-to-great category. They don’t solely rely on technology to make them great, but they do use the right technology to help them achieve their goals.

Push the Flywheel and the Doom Loop

Through their research, Collins and his team realized there was no single defining action responsible for the good-to-great shift. These shifts aren’t due to one particular lucky break or grand project. Instead, they are the result of “pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond.”

Transition from Good to Great to Built to Last

Collins also wrote the novel Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Good to Great was written as a sort of prequel to Built to Last. In order to learn how the fundamental principles of both books apply to one another, Collins dedicates the entire last chapter of Good to Great to how you can integrate it with Built to Last.

There’s a lot more to going from good to great detailed throughout this novel. Jump in and don’t forget to keep your highlighter handy—Good to Great is filled with tons of advice you’ll want to refer to time and time again.

You may be interested in last month’s AMT book review, Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success by journalist and entrepreneur Shane Snow

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