The Gap: Good to Great

“Freedom is only part of the story and half the truth… That is why I recommend the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplanted by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast” (Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning)

Good to Great (by Jim Collins) took center stage over two decades ago and still appears on all-time business book lists. Collins and his team of researchers identified key differences (gaps) between companies that end up merely good and those that take the leap to great. I remember purchasing it for our leadership team back in 2001 and recently pulled it off my bookshelf, curious whether the insights might also apply to us on a personal level? The subtitle, “Why some make the leap… and other don’t” certainly seems to point in that direction.

It starts, as we’ve discussed many times (hint, hint), with our vision. The individual who is “fine” (good) has no need for a vision – they’re already fine! (status quo? check!) The clear, personal vision is reserved for those (company or individual) who aren’t content to settle but rather value a life of enhanced meaning and expanding positive impact. A paradoxical Collins-ism is that while core values/clear vision are essential, “it doesn’t seem to matter what those core values are!” Don’t take that too far :-). His point reminds us of the value of our individual differences. Your unique vision differs from mine. That’s a wonderful thing – and the reason it is termed a clear, PERSONAL vision!

Collins reference to Dr. Frankl’s freedom/responsibility quote garners a solid launching point toward this powerful, personal vision. At the extreme, liberty is our freedom to do whatever we desire – to ignore the Cornerstones (Move/Fuel/Rest/Connect) as there apparently is no consequential penalty in doing so in the moment. Pick most any unhealthy action (drug/alcohol abuse & high-risk activities being clear exceptions) and it appears no negatives immediately take place. Like the way in which credit cards allow us to kick our purchase payment down the road, our bodies hide most unhealthy consequences until we reach the tipping point. Then suddenly – although it’s anything but sudden – the compounding health debt comes due – with interest!

On the other hand, responsibility alone, within an unbalanced vacuum, may place us on the “correct” yet joyless track. It can extend our years while simultaneously robbing us of life. The key, as Frankl so wisely notes, is merging the two. Sure – we all have our natural leanings, but perhaps it’s worth considering if our tires are out of balance and our wheels are in danger of flying off as we head down the road.

Related to this is a pair of (apparently unrelated, as they appear on pp. 57 & 125) statements:

  •         “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake.”
  •         “Great companies manage the system, not the people.”

Our readers are familiar with the Head-Heart-Feet strategy of engaged automation. Yes, sometimes we must initially make the decision to step into something difficult or uncomfortable (head). However, as we’re initially “managing” ourselves, we look for both existing elements of engagement or ways in which to bring that engagement into the process (heart). Once our heart is engaged, we then automate the system, making the best choice the easy choice going forward (feet). An ongoing requirement to manage (people in a company or ourselves in our life journey) means we missed the mark.

Finally, Collins earns 12-year-old Brad bonus points with a reference to the Six Million Dollar Man. Some of you are mouthing the words right now (“We can rebuild him. We can make him better than he was…”). For those under 50 who may not be familiar with one of the greatest TV shows in history :-), Steve Austin was an astronaut involved in a tragic crash. However, instead of it ending his career, the decision was made to rebuild him even better. Good to Great connects the dots between (inevitable) organizational crashes and the opportunities such occurrences create. The same is true personally. Pause for a moment to consider what preceded the most significant growth spurts in your own life. If you’re anything like me (and almost every person I’ve ever known), those rebirths almost ALWAYS follow a figurative personal or professional crash. Maybe today is the day we decide to bridge the gap and move from good… to great!

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