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Book Review: Good to Great

Good to Great, written by Jim Collins, investigates twenty two companies understanding at a deep level what creates good momentum into great momentum. Collins, and twenty one other researchers, look closely at eleven companies; which they extrapolate trends, commonality, and data. Their findings shed light on how to create Great company momentum that sustains and maintains. The aim of Collin’s argumentation is to enhance any organization’s performance based off of his teams collected research. Essentially, Good to Great is a mere reflection of what his research team discovered.

The data that was discovered highlights two major components of what strengthens an organization performance. The first component is the leadership structure. Collin’s argues that there are five levels a leadership team must exhibit. He suggests that there is a hierarchy of specific leadership: Level 1 is a highly capable individual, Level 2 is a contributing team member, Level 3 is a competent manager, Level 4 is an effective leader, and Level 5 is an Executive who exemplifies humility and will. Collin strongly notes that in order to be a Great organization one does not necessarily have to be a level 5 leader. However, every company in their transitional phase had a level 5 leader. Understanding the different arrangements of leaders allows one to process through the type of leadership structure their organization has, needs, and wants. Obtaining level 5 leadership is the foundational aspect that creates a healthy and great movement.

The second component Collins communicates is the six essential principles that are applied to making one’s organization Great. These six principles are: 1) First Who…Then What, 2) Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith), 3) The Hedgehog Concept, 4) A Culture of Discipline, 5) Technology Accelerators, and 6) The Flywheel and the Doom Loop. Collins in chapters three thru eight explains the themes within each principle. In each of these chapters, he presents his case by illustrating his data from the case studies, which allows him to articulate a core value. The traits of the leadership structure fused together with the six Great principles create a powerful momentum to enhancing a company’s effectiveness that sustains itself. Collins with all his research and passion is demonstrating core values that make good, okay companies into Great, thriving companies. His answer to the problem of moving an okay company into a Great company is not a concrete answer. His answer, as he strongly indicates, needs to be contextualized and adapted to the current culture of whatever organization he or she wants to make Great.

I believe it is essential to dig down deeper into the key concepts Collins’ is communicating. The first key concept is a shift of thinking on how we can move from good to great. Collins states that many people are living good lives, but few people are attaining great lives. Right now as we know it, we are living standard lives. Collins wants his audience motivated to buy into the idea of “Yes, I want greatness, tell me more!” “Good is the enemy of great,” therefore let us conquer this enemy of good, which allows one to ask, how do we do this? The next concepts answer the question of how.

The second key concept is establishing a concrete leadership culture. Collins and his team found that the “type” of leaders does not make a difference. It did not revolve around the personality, vision, and charisma. What matters was that the leaders exemplified a contagious humility and professional will that focused on what is best for the company, and not what is best for him or her. The main traits Level five leaders exhibit would be: building “enduring greatness” into their organization, setting their successors up for success, talking about the company and others, but declining to discuss themselves, and most likely come from within the company, not outside of the company.[1] The levels of leadership are not driving on the leaders personality, but driving on a philosophy of humility and will. Having a level five leader transitions the organization, by focusing on what makes it great.

The third concept asks the question of what are we best at? Collin’s took this ideology from the quote of “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. The notion of knowing one big thing is referred to the Hedgehog concept. The Hedgehog concept hones the energy on the big thing. However developing the Hedgehog concept one needs to answer these three questions: 1) What can we be best in the world at? 2) What are we passionate about? 3) What drives our economic engine? From these three answers will direct a flow that is focused on what the organization is best at. Collin notes that understanding what you are best at and what you are not best at clearly illustrates a crucial distinction. This distinction will channel a focused energy on what you already know how to do well and transform it into making it Great.

The fourth concept is sustaining a consistent momentum that lasts. Collins illustrates this concept in the language of the flywheel. The flywheel continues building momentum that keeps your organization into the Great category. The characteristics of knowing if you are on the flywheel are: asking what are the steps to build momentum, accomplish consistency with the Hedgehog Concept, following disciplined people, disciplined thought, and discipline action, and let results do most of the talking. In order to achieve a fluid and effective flywheel in your organization, it is essential to have a Level 5 leader, getting the right people in the right seats, honing in on the big thing the company does well, and executing it with the right people in the right places.

Collins book has been on the National Bestseller list for a while; and I understand why. He has extrapolated organizational principles that may in fact work. I deeply support his
research and the data that he found. Collins is a passionate man who has a heart for taking organization to great performance. That was easily detected in his book; he is real and he is raw. I also liked the fact that he included his surprises and his intentionality. I learned a vast amount about leadership. His ideas about having level 1-5 leaders and that anyone has the capacity to be a level 5 leaders, is compelling. I have been molded with the mind frame that the charisma types of individuals are the perfect fit for effective and great leadership.

I’m hesitant, even though he was very clear this was not his intention, in thinking that people will take this book as an instruction manual to becoming successful. Collins arguments were very clear, but at times his approach to becoming great seemed too easy. I felt as though he needed to put more of an emphasis on time. The first principle, especially, needs a lot of time to process through. This research project took him almost forty years to orchestrate, therefore time is a variable. Time and patience is not American citizens’ strength. We want the quick fix that is going to pave the way to having a great organization. I felt as though the practicality of time was not deeply implied.

Good to Great can give a frame of reference to think through, as one moves into organizational leadership position. This book does not have all of the answers; although I found myself thinking that at times as I was reading. There are many great business principle, which essentially are Biblical principles that can shape a sustained movement within an organization. This book has some great themes that I will store in my leadership tool belt as I develop as a Christian leader. Who said Christian leaders could not learn from successful business leaders?


[1] Collins, James. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and OtherDon’t. New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001. Page 39.

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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