Life got in the way of me reading all of the praised and respected books about leadership. Jim Collins’ Good to Great is more than 10 years old and this summer, I’m reading it for the first time. Maybe you’re busy, on vacation, or simply don’t read this type of book. In case that’s true, here is an excerpt from Chapter 3 that resonated so well with me that I’ve read it every day for a couple of weeks.
When we began the research project, we expected to find that the first step in taking a company from good to great would be to set a new direction, a new vision and strategy for the company, and then to get people committed and aligned behind that new direction.
We found something quite the opposite.
The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it. They said, in essence, “Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”
The good-to-great leaders understood three simple truths. First, if you begin with “who,” rather than “what,” you can more easily adapt to a changing world. If people join the bus primarily because of where it is going, what happens if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction? You’ve got a problem. But if people are on the bus because of who else is on the bus, then it’s much easier to change direction: “Hey, I got on this bus because of who else is on it; if we need to change direction to be more successful, fine with me.” Second, if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great. Third, if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.
– Jim Collins, Good to Great, Chapter 3 (pages 41-42)
I relate to this passage, in part, because for the past 25 years I’ve been testing what it asserts. If you hire well:
- you can spend your time leading people, not managing them
- your organization will be perfectly positioned to respond to changing needs, priorities and technologies