Yesterday I attended the World Business Forum in New York City (as part of the Bloggers Hub – follow us on Twitter at #wbf10), where I got a chance to hear Jim Collins speak.
Collins is the author of my all-time favorite business book, “Good to Great” (affiliate link, profits to National Park Foundation), where through a ton of research he identified the most critical traits of companies that were able to sustain above-average growth rates for long periods of time.
I was curious to hear if what he wrote so well could be translated to the stage, and he delivered the goods – and then some.
He persuasively reiterated all conclusions from the book, and while I encourage you to read it (if you haven’t already done so) to properly absorb all of them, the one that continues to resonate with me has to do with leadership.
In fact, this leadership lesson has influenced me, and how I practice leadership, more than any other lesson I have ever received- and after 35 years of studying leadership, that’s saying something.
The lesson? “Level 5” leadership.
A blend of “personal humility and professional will“.
What’s so wonderful about this?
Collins noted that in every instance, the leaders of the “great” companies demonstrated these two traits.
It’s channeling their ambition not on themselves, but onto their team.
It’s “We-centric”, not “Me-centric”.
They credit others (or luck) when things go well, and “looks in the mirror” when they don’t.
They act with quiet and calm determination.
And most of all, Level 5 leaders have an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.
But this faith and resolve needs to be balanced with facts, and Collins brought up a great illustration of this at the World Business Forum, when he presented the “Stockdale Paradox” .
Admiral Stockdale was a POW in Vietnam for 7 years, and here’s the paradox, in his own words:
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Collins notes that all the leaders who made the leap to greatness understood this Paradox, and stayed disciplined, especially at those crucial moments when success hung in the balance.
All told, his case for Level 5 leadership was compelling in the book, and it was only reinforced yesterday in his presentation.
It is an enduring lesson that future leaders should heed, and most certainly follow – for it is indeed the only path to real greatness.