Leadership Book Recommendation: Good to Great

One of my goals for 2010 is to read one leadership book per month. I’ve been able to meet that goal and of the books I’ve read so far, the work of one author stands out. Jim Collins’ Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t (2001) is an insightful read into why “good is the enemy of great” (p. 1). He shares insights such as:

  • “When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy. When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy.” (p. 13)
  • “There’s a huge difference between having the opportunity to have your say, and the opportunity to be heard.” (p. 74)
  • “The essence of profound insight is simplicity.” (p. 91)
  • “You can’t manufacture passion or motivate people to feel passionate. You can only discover what ignites your passion and the passions of those around you.” (p. 109)
  • “It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life.”

After studying businesses, Collins did a short companion book called, Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer: Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great (2005). This is a thought-provoking little gem that helps us wrap our brains around the struggle that education and non-profit organizations face to be more like businesses. Collins makes a compelling argument that they shouldn’t try. He challenges us to think in new ways when he claims, that “most businesses are mediocre. Why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors?” (p. 1)

He talks about “organizational greatness”, as opposed to business as being something to aspire to. He urges us to consider that, “A great organization is one that delivers superior performance and makes a distinctive impact over a long period of time”. It’s easy to see how that could apply either to a business or a social sector organization.

Collins goes on to say that he suspects, “we will find more true leadership in the social sectors than the business sector” (p. 12). That’s quite a claim from a former faculty member of the Standford University Graduate School of Business.

Good to Great and the companion monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors are thought-provoking and insightful books on organizations and leadership. Well researched. Well written. Worth the read.

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