Good to Great by Jim Collins
The lowdown: Good to Great is a wildly popular business/leadership book. I first heard of Jim Collins from people who have attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, where he has spoken several times. Jim Collins is a former professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and now focuses on doing business research. The thesis of Good to Great is that companies that go from “good” to “great” (both terms which Collins defines by a series of analyses based on all kinds of fancy business equations) are not just random occurrences, but that all companies that “make the leap” have many things in common. In Good to Great, Collins goes into detailing discussing these qualities.
Why I read it: This book was implicitly recommended to me, mainly because I saw it on the bookshelves of a great deal of people who I respect and look up to. I’ve also heard stories from it used as sermon illustrations, which made me think that it probably wasn’t just an ordinary (read “boring”) business book. After having it on a “to buy” list, I finally found a copy that was nearly brand new at a thrift store for a few dollars. I’ve been working my way through it slowly the last couple of months, and finally finished it a few days ago.
What I got out of it: I loved this book, both because Jim Collins is a great writer and storyteller and because of the content of the book. Also, Collins seems aware that the “good to great” principle is not something that is limited to business leaders, CEO’s, etc which makes the book even more accessible to anyone involved in an organization or team.
One of my big takeaways that I have come to love is the idea of getting the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus. Even before a vision is set…get the right people in the room for the conversation. In Jim Collins’ words, “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”
Another important idea that is talked about is the character of a leader who can take an organization from good to great. It is NOT the kind of leader who is brilliant but won’t play well in the sandbox with others. It is NOT the kind of leader who attempts to contort the organization to best fit their needs. And it is NOT the kind of leader who loves the spotlight. Instead, the leader capable of moving others from good to great (what Collins calls a Level 5 Leader) is characterized by humility, ambitious (for the good of the company, not themselves), set others up for success and credit others for success, driven and focused, and take responsibility. Sounds a bit like servant leadership to me.
Collins also talks about the “hedgehog concept” and the “flywheel.” Essentially, an organization’s hedgehog concept is asking the question, “what can we do better than anyone else?” and then steering the direction of the company directly towards the answer, with a willingness to sacrifice whatever excess might exist. This kind of clarity seems so rare, both in businesses and in churches. So many churches want to be everything to everybody…when in reality the church should attempt to be a picture of “the body of Christ” to everyone, which is a far simpler than trying to be “everything” to everybody.
The “flywheel” concept is essentially the idea that no company went from good to great overnight. The transition to greatness is not one that happens quickly, or as a result of one decision. There is no slogan or logo or pep talk that will usher in greatness from goodness. Instead, it takes years of devotion and dedication, and a willingness to make the tough decisions when the time calls for them. I know how frustrating it can be when a ministry I’m involved in isn’t growing…but to go from good to great requires the realization that what role I play may only be a couple of cycles turning the flywheel, and I may not be there or even credited when the flywheel starts moving on it’s own momentum. And that needs to be okay with me.
Should you read this book?: If you are not satisfied with mediocrity, or desire to seem something that you love and are passionate about grow into greatness (Collins make sure to note that greatness does NOT equal BIG or LARGE…greatness has more to do with the final product and the process along the way than the size of the return)…whether it be a business, a ministry, or a hobby…I think there are important ideas and principles in this book that lend a lot of clarity to the task of working towards excellence and greatness. I think this is a great book for a ministry/team leader/coach to read and discuss with their peers, supervisors, or team members.
Collins does not make direct applications of his points to a non-business environment, so if you are not a CEO or in management it will require you to bridge the gaps to whatever organization/church/ministry/team that you have in mind while reading this, although Collins offers a bit of encouragement for these endeavors at the end of the book. The book itself is extremely readable, as Collins mixes in stories, personal applications, and humor throughout the book.
Next up: An Unstoppable Force by Erwin McManus