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Book Review: Good to Great by Jim Collins

July 29, 2003

This book has come highly recommended by several of my colleagues. I thoroughly enjoyed Built to Last, so I was looking forward to this book as well, and I was not disappointed. Mr. Collins has another winner on his hands.

A key message in this excellent management treatise is that true leaders build organizations that will last long after they are gone. They put excellent people together first and then figure out what the company will do. If the company already exists, they put the right people in the right jobs and then make sure that the company is headed in the right direction.

This is right in keeping with what I have been suggesting to those attending my Ethics as a Business Process seminars. We need to make sure we are building human resources and processes for the long term and not be focused on the short term (quarterly) results. Focus on those short term results forces managers to make incorrect decisions for the STAKEHOLDERS.

Good to GreatAnother key point is that we need to account for the stakeholders not just the stockholders. When we are concerned about all those in our business chain, we do not make decisions that make only one group happy at the expense of others. So customers, employees, stockholders, and those in proximity to our physical plants and services must be taken into account as well.

Collins presents the “Hedgehog Concept” and the three circles as a model to make his points. One circle is “What you are deeply passionate about.” A second circle is “What drives your economic engine.” The third circle is “What you can be the best in the world at.” The intersection of the three circles is where we need to spend our time and energy. The Great Companies are more like hedgehogs—they know one big but simple thing and they stick to it, at all costs. They aren’t the flashy technology companies, they are the tried and true long term companies that keep producing sustained great results.

Collins also presents the concept of the Level 5 leader. Level 1 are highly capable individuals, level 2 are contributing team members, level 3 are competent managers, level 4 are effective leaders. And then there is the level 5 executive or leader who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Level 5 leadership is not just about humility and modesty; it is equally about ferocious resolve, and almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great. Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce results, and they work at the intersection of the three circles.

The book is documented with the Collins trademark studies, surveys, and interviews. He gives us a periodic view of how his research team argued over and hashed out the details which resulted in this excellent book. And the surprise? The surprise is that this is not a follow on to Built to Last but rather it is best positioned as a prequel to that book. If you haven’t read Built to Last, read Good to Great first and then read Built to Last. Both are excellent and by reading them in the suggested order, the puzzle pieces will simply fall together. Definitely a five out of five on my scale.

Click to see it at Amazon.

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