Jim Collins: How to Build an Enduring Great Company (12 Questions for Leaders)

Jim Collins: How to Build an Enduring Great Company (12 Questions for Leaders)

Jim Collins delivered the Keynote at this year’s Vistage ChairWorld meeting to over 800 participants.

About Jim Collins

Jim Collins is a student and teacher of what makes great companies tick, and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors.  He has authored 6 books that have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. His books include: 

  • Good to Great which examines why some companies make the leap to superior results,
  • Built to Last, which explores how some leaders build companies that remain visionary for generations; 
  • How the Mighty Fall, which delves into how once-great companies can self-destruct; and 
  • Great by Choice, which is about thriving in chaos—why some do, and others don’t.

Conor’s Video Summary of Jim Collins 12 Questions

Jim Collins shared 12 questions that come out of his work over the last 25 years.

These are my notes and reflections from his Keynote address.

The 4 part video series below gives a short overview of each of the 12 questions.

Video: Summary of Jim Collins’ 12 Questions

#1 strive for excellence

The first step is a conscious decision on the part of leadership to decide for excellence, to decide to build an enduring great company. Often leaders are enduring great individuals, but that doesn’t make for an enduring great company. Leaders must put excellence in the company over “success” in their own individual life. (This doesn’t mean that they give up a good life, but that they are willing to pay the price of leading an Enduring Great Company.)

Differences between level 5 and level 4 leader?

  • Humility. This is key to level 5. Deep genuine personal humility combined with a brutal will, a fierce resolve directed at something that is not about them
  • Leadership: People follow when they have the choice to not follow… otherwise it is just power.
  • Charisma – not necessary for Level 5 leadership (“never confuse personality with leadership”)

The author of this blog with Jim Collins, best selling author of Good to Great and Built to Last, at Vistage ChairWorld, January 2019

#2 First who, then what.

Right people, then trust them to figure out where the bus is going. Great vision without great people is irrelevant. Single most important talent: select great people for the key seats. Nothing is more important that key seats filled with great people.

#3 confront the brutal facts

What brutal facts must we confront? No opinions.

#4 Hedgehog concept

Fox knows many things, hedgehog knows 1 Fox loves complexity, hedgehog loves simple Intersection of Passion, best in world, drives economic engine Big is not equal to great (think restaurants- if it were to disappear it would leave an unfillable hole)

#5 20 mile march

Driving the flywheel  “Which push made the difference?” None… Cumulative effort consistently over long time Flywheel- causal links between, inevitability  “I admire Nike” “what do Nike do? Products so great that pros wear them” great products + social proof Execution 1-10… flywheel accelerator at quality of execution of lowest quality of execution  Best investment strategy “a highly undiversified investment where you are right” “We can make it up on a good day” fallacy.  Be super careful of overextension leading to missing your March Cycle across USA… booked the hotels ahead of time: have to make it, and prepare for tomorrow and the next day
“Part of the task of helping others is to be really hard on them… with love”

#6 bullets, then cannonballs

Innovation small, then massive support of small wins. Scale the right innovation. Scaling innovation is more important than innovation. Fail: Not enough bullets Bullets but no guts to fire cannonball Untargeted cannonballs

#7 don’t die

The first step of moving from good to great to built to last is “don’t die” I am terrified by good times. Complacency! Be properly terrified all the time. Fortune 500 85% carnage rate.

Jim Collins’ shares the 5 Stages of Decline of a Business

Productive paranoia:Prepare for the storms (cash to assets ratio 3-10 times greater)

The only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive 

#8 clock building or time telling?

Idea-> biz-> great company = enduring success

“The genius with a thousand helpers model is not building a great company”

Jim Collins

Shift from time telling (individual level) to clock building (at a company level). Every leader can grow to be the leader of a bigger, greater company. Don’t answer questions with answers… help people find their own answers, their own resourcefulness.

Steve Jobs 2.0 – had a yoda who helped him create a culture of geniuses.  What’s your leadership 2.0?

#9 preserve the core, stimulate progress 

Yin & yang Core set of unchanging values and purpose, constant progress towards your north star

#10 What’s our BHAG?

Time frame 10-25 years… anything less is just base camp

“The best people want to do the hard things”

Jim Collins

A Good BHAG frightens mediocrity away. Test of BHAG – does it repel some people?

#11 return on Luck

Luck event:

  1. You didn’t cause
  2. Consequences 
  3. Can’t control

Get good at making the most of when luck happens. How do you handle the unexpected? Use both good luck & bad luck (crisis allows change) to improve.

#12 Stop Doing list

Only doing is not discipline. True discipline is about what not to do first.  What should you not be doing?

Peter Drucker – age 65 had written only 1/3 of his books. Age 86 wrote 10 more books.

“You will survive, you will probably succeed… The question Mr Collins is how to be useful”

Peter Drucker (to young Jim Collins)

More from Jim Collins

Are you a Level 5 leader? How do you address these 12 questions? Where do you struggle? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

What are your thoughts?

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