If you happened to witness Jim Collins talk about great leaders at the 2014 Nordic Business Forum, you are most likely still gasping for breath; such a captivating and enlightening experience it was. In December, at an exclusive interview with Nordic Business Report, Collins pointed out that the role of a great leader is even more crucial today. The world may be in the midst of perhaps the biggest uncertainty of all times, but that does not mean there is no room for companies to thrive.
Photo: Jim Collins at the 2014 Nordic Business Forum.
Off into a new fiscal year we go, and while the situation around the world remains hazy to say the least, companies once again have to meet new business objectives, reach new sales quotas and show the kind of profit the board has advised… well, instructed them to show. The wheels of economics are turning, albeit slowly, and there is no stopping if you want to survive, let alone flourish.
Great leaders are in higher demand than ever before. At the end of the day, it is at their responsibility to enable the organization to be as good as it can be. Quite understandably, there is a ton of questions in the air for which the leaders are outright begging to find answers.
Jim Collins, a globally renowned researcher and teacher of leadership, provides the first advise: a leader should not ask ‘am I performing well’ but instead, ‘how can I make the company better’.
“Humility, combined with fierce resolve, is what makes a good leader great”, Collins points out. “Also, humility is about putting the ambition and energy to the benefit of the company.”
Speaking of asking, Collins says that that’s precisely the right kind of approach for a leader in situations where difficult decisions have to be made. In the pursuit of scaling and distributing greatness throughout the organization, the key is to say less and ask more.
“Best disagreements often lead to the best answers”, Collins says. “A leader should get the best people together to debate a challenging issue – and focus on listening them argue before making the decision.”
Leading the company out of pandemic
Collins talks about companies who thrive in chaos – he also emphasizes that achieving greatness is not a matter of circumstances, but a matter of conscious choice and discipline. Success at the time such as this requires plenty, and most companies might be happy to simply survive; dealing with this dilemma depends a lot on the condition the company is in while heading into the crisis.
“There are two types of companies heading into a storm like this,” Jim Collins explains. “The strong ones and the exposed ones. The strong ones are strong because they are disciplined and practice productive paranoia before the storm comes, while the exposed ones are less disciplined and paranoid during good times, but hopefully learning from their mistakes.”
In good times, separating great companies from the good ones is difficult, but when bad comes to worse, the great are suffering less. When good times return, that gap widens as great companies pull further away.
Those hit hard need to make sure that they get through the storm, vowing it will be a lesson for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, by the next storm, they have become a bit more paranoid – and thus also a bit better prepared.
Dealing with the present – the Stockdale paradox
The big question for the companies at this point is, when will the good times return? While this is a concern for everyone, there are several ways to deal with the present; we have to go about our daily business and not settle for waiting for things to change. A sense of despair is natural when we don’t know the end of the story, yet we can’t surrender to it.
Jim Collins brings up the Stockdale paradox, named after admiral James Stockdale. He spent 8 years at a Vietnamese prison camp in the 1960’s – and survived.
Admiral Stockdale noticed that at the camp, the optimists were the ones that suffered the most. They convinced themselves that they’d be out by Christmas, and when Christmas came and went, they started to say the same about the next one. The years went by, and they ended up with a broken heart.
This applies so well to organizations dealing with the current situation, even to the individuals suffering from it.
“On the other hand, you need the unwavering faith that you can, and you will prevail,” Jim Collins emphasizes. “On the other, you need the discipline to confront the brutal facts, as they actually are.”
The people, the organizations and the entire world is in a Stockdale moment – we were not out by Christmas. But however long it may take, we will prevail in the end.
On March 23-24 2021, Jim Collins will host a Nordic Business Forum virtual masterclass for leaders to learn how to take the leap from good to great, and how to prevail in the face of a crisis.