Valuable insights from Jim Collins “Good to Great” Part 1

What makes a company great. What generates a workplace where people feel fulfilled, where every nose points in the same direction and where great results are achieved?

Jim Collins’ answers in his bestselling book “Good to Great” are surprisingly simple, pragmatic and straightforward.

To go from a good company to a great company you need disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action.

  • Disciplined people: means getting the right people and keeping them focused on excellence

  • Disciplined thought: means being honest about the facts and avoid getting sidetracked

  • Disciplined action: means understanding what is important to achieve and what isn’t

The book is about being great, not merely good. Good is the enemy of great. Many people and companies settle for good because it’s easier. Many companies don’t even try to be great. This opens the door to competitors. Being the best means there is absolutely no room for mediocre thinking. It’s the same in our personal lives. Few people lead great lives. This is because they’re happy with living a ‘good’ life.

In a series of 3 blogs, we will guide you true these main steps, so keep posted!

As you can see from the diagram as we move from Good to Great there is a “flywheel” effect. The three concepts slowly build its momentum. Once the flywheel is up to speed the company can sustain years of excellent performance.

First concept: Disciplined people

The concept of disciplined people, can be divided in three important principles:

  • Level 5 Leadership

  • First who, then what

  • Put your best people on your biggest opportunities

Level 5 Leadership

If you think about an organizational hierarchy, the lowest level of leadership would be the highly capable individual. These are people who contribute using their skills, know-how and good work habits.

Moving one step up the hierarchy, the next level is a contributing team member. These are people who are able to use their skills and knowledge to help their team succeed.

The next level is a competent manager. These managers are capable of organizing their team to efficiently reach pre-determined objectives.

Level 4 would be the effective leaders. This is where the majority of leaders/CEO’s can be found. They are able to create the commitment from their team to pursue a clear and compelling vision. They’re also able to create a high-performing team.

And the finally, we reach the level 5 leadership. These are the great leaders. They have the abilities of the other four levels plus a unique combination of will and humility. And it is this combination that makes them great.

The behaviors of level 5 leaders include:

Paradox: They are ambitious, but their ambition is for the organization to excel rather than for themselves. At the same time, they tend to be modest about what they personally contribute.

Driven: They are driven to produce exceptional results on a sustainable basis. The key word here is sustainable. This isn’t the result of a one-off heroic effort.

Build successors: They build successors to be even more successful. This is in contrast to level 4 leaders who will sometimes set up their successors for failure to make themselves look good.

Share praise: They share the praise amongst the team when things go well.

Take blame: They are happy to take the blame when things go wrong. By sharing the praise and taking the blame they make their team extremely loyal and committed to them.

Normal people: They never have larger than life personalities, they’re just normal modest humans (like our team members at HumanITi :-).

Come from within the organization: This is because their greatness comes from quiet hard-work, rather than heroic acts.

First Who, Then What

Of course, it’s not just the quality of leadership that is important to be great. The quality of all other people in the team is equally as important.

What does first who, then what mean? It is very opposite of what we normally think. It means that you don’t decide what you want to do and then get the people you need to do it. Instead, you start by getting the right people into the organization and the wrong people out.

Getting the right people takes precedence over strategy, over vision, over almost everything. First, you get the right people. Then you let them work out where you’re going to go, what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to do it. Frist who, then what, means shifting your mindset to realize that people are not your most valuable asset, the right people are.

To put the right people on your company-train, you keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • When in doubt, don’t hire - keep looking

  • When you know you need to make a change in personnel, act right away. Hire slow and fire fast.

  • Put your best people on your biggest opportunities

Good luck with finding and keeping disciplined people. At HumanITi, we can help you train these people and make sure that they can focus on making your company great by using the right technology in the right (human) way.

Talk to you soon about the second Collins concept, ‘disciplined thought’



Vicky Buelens - Kobalt Legal"

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