One of my favorite authors on leadership and organization success spoke at the Catalyst Conference earlier this month. Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, should be required reading for anyone leading an organization. In fact, I have gone back through it and reviewed my notes in it since I have returned from Atlanta.
This year he spoke from his new book, Great By Choice. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but I am looking forward to doing so soon. But he did share the key points.
First, he emphasized the points that “good” is the enemy of “great” and that greatness is a matter of choice and discipline.
He then went on to identify three important practices (evidenced by nine years of research) of leaders who choose to be great. To illustrate, he used the story of two teams racing to Antarctica in 1911. One team was led by the British explorer Robert F. Scott and another team was led by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole by practicing these three things:
Ruthless Discipline — Leaders who choose greatness practice an almost fanatical discipline. Amundsen decided to walk 17-20 miles a day. No more, no less. Come wind or snow. No matter what happened they stayed the course. Scott would sometimes not go far enough or push his team too hard. Collins said that the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.
Empirical Creativity — Leaders who choose greatness do their “homework.” The majority of them are not pioneers, but they learn from those who are. And then they innovate. They don’t look to other’s practices and replicate; but look to the data for understanding and then become creative. It’s ok to say “I don’t know” and learn from those who do. This is how true innovation happens. They also look at the hard date and decide the best way to attack their challenges. One a side note, that is one thing I took away from the movie, Moneyball – rethinking the data, the goal, and the steps to reach it.
Productive Paranoia — Leaders who choose greatness know that you have to be prepared for what you cannot predict. They channel anxiety into productive action and reduce probability of failure.
How do you practice ruthless discipline in your leadership context? What is your plan, your “2o miles”? Are you and your organization disciplined and sticking to it, or does inconsistency seem to be more prevalent than discipline?
Who are the pioneers or entrepreneurs that you are learning from? Who is leading the way in your field? What does the “hard data” say about the direction you are heading and the way you or your organization are doing things?
Are you prepared for what you can’t predict? That sounds counter-intuitive, but it is an essential discipline to reduce the chances of catastrophic failure.