Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Good to Great Leaders

Written by: on September 20, 2014

In reading Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t”  I was struck by Jim Collins’ answer when asked what motivated him to take on huge projects. His answer was, “curiosity.”  “There is nothing I find more exciting than picking a question that I don’t know the answer to and embarking on a quest for answers.”[1] It was Collins’ curiosity that took him on a journey to search for good-to-great examples. Yet, Collins did not embark on this journey alone. He assembled a team of 21 people who worked on this project. And for several years they worked steadily on researching and discovering the answer. Throughout their process their efforts were put into discovering how “good” organizations turn into one that produces sustained “great” results.[2] Curiosity, teamwork, intentionality and patience took them on a journey of greatness.

I was intrigued by the various ideas that Jim Collins drew out of this research–specifically in the area of leadership. The type of leadership that makes for greatness was a shocking discovery for Collins. It wasn’t the big personalities, charismatic, dynamic leaders who turned good companies to great ones. But the great company leaders were those who have a blend of personal humility and professional will.[3] He describes these leaders more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar. These are leaders who more concerned about the good of the organization, the success of the organization and future of the organization rather than about promoting themselves. These are the kinds of leaders that when the time comes for them to step down, they want to make sure that whoever succeeds them will be just as effective, if not more effective.

However, Collins states that there are leaders whose goal is to stand out, and to have their personal record on display. These leaders, which Collins calls comparison leaders, often fail to set the organization up for success in the next generation.[4]

I have seen both kinds of pastoral leaders. Yet, it saddens me to say that I often encounter more of the comparison leaders than Level 5 leadership. I have seen pastors leave their congregations and be more concerned about leaving their legacy — having a window named after them, or a bench or a classroom–rather than assuring that the next leader who comes will lead the church to the next level of greatness.

I am reminded of the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples—“but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”[5] Jesus didn’t leave us to fail, but to succeed and to do greater things.

Collins quotes Harry S. Truman, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”  Great leaders seek the good of the organization’s future, even when they are no longer serving in that specific organization.

Great leaders and organizations also get the “right people” on the bus and the wrong people off the bus! Collins is not talking about the right people being your buddies, your favorites, or your “yes” people. And he is not talking about the wrong people being your enemies. The right people are those who are able to adapt to changes in direction or strategy. The right people are those who you do not have to motivate in order for them to share in the desire to achieve greatness. They are already motivated and fired up to produce the best results and be part of creating something great.

Unfortunately, sometimes in our churches, getting people off the bus is very difficult–because we put the wrong people on the bus. Over and over again, I have seen people put in places of leadership because they are simply a “warm body.” They are not asked to get on the bus because they are the “right” people but because we are desperate to fill a positon or fill a seat. This is what might keep an organization from being great. We need to be discerning when we ask people to get on the bus.  Collins states that great vision without great people is irrelevant.[6]

For Collins a great leader is not about being soft or nice, but about making sure that the right decisions happen, no matter how difficult or painful, for the long-term greatness of the institution and the achievement of its mission, independent of consensus or popularity. [7]


[1] Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publisher, 2001) 131 Kindle.

[2] Ibid., 152 Kindle.

[3] Ibid., 232 Kindle.

[4] Ibid., 442 Kindle.

[5] Bible, New International Version (Acts 1:8).

[6] Ibid., 720 Kindle.

[7] Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, (Boulder, CO: J. Collins, 2005) 11.

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

6 responses to “Good to Great Leaders”

  1. Julie Dodge says:

    As always, Miriam, your work is thoughtful.

    I wonder about the challenge of getting people on and off the bus in the church. Of course we want qualified leaders. Skilled leaders. But we get stuck. We see potential and want to give someone and opportunity. Or we see faithful participation (they are there every week) but maybe they are a bit pessimistic. Our standard struggles between the compassion and investment that Christ made, and picking the right folks. I mean – even Jesus picked Judas. But I suppose He meant to do that. He also sent people home. Oh that we had the insight of our Lord and could see His view. It ain’t easy from the ground.

  2. Ashley says:

    Miriam, as I read about Collins and his group of 21, I turned my thoughts, too, to Jesus and his 12. Collins surrounded himself with those he could depend upon to complete the research and the mission. Jesus did the same. He was a mentor, an example, an encourager and a teacher. He was intentional, humble, and one could even argue his hedgehog qualities. I loved how Julie just pointed out, even Jesus picked Judas! Clearly this is an extenuating circumstance…but in modern times, Judas could have been that “warm body” you spoke of… “11 was a good number, but we really need 12! Let’s grab that guy!” Leaders make mistakes. The important thing is to make note, learn from it, and not repeat. I believe that moves a leader from good to great, yet too often we see churches and ministry leaders making the same mistakes over and over. Time to break that cycle!

    See ya soon, Miriam!

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Miriam
    As you rightly say, getting the wrong people off the bus is not an easy thing to do! This is something I’m learning the hard way through mistakes I’ve made already this year: hastily inviting someone to become an assistant pastor without waiting to hear from God; putting another person in a leadership role because that’s what she wanted, rather than what God wanted. Mistakes…mistakes. I hope I learn. Conversely, I’ve seen the blessing of putting the right person on the bus. And what a stark difference it is! A very helpful topic indeed.

  4. Clint Baldwin says:


    Considering your work and the other comments, a major question is “Who” are the right “Who’s”? Getting the right people on the bus. Great. We’re all in. However, not only Judas…but most of the whole lot of disciples. These are Jesus’ right people…they’re the “Who” that need to be on the bus!? Really!?
    I think that there are things we can look for in these “Who” people, but I think some of it often will look counterintuitive to those peering in from the outside.
    I will say that I have seen Collins’ principle work out on the less salutary end of the matter before. In the past, I have at times taken the “safe” path in hiring and based it more on credentialing and committee recommendation (certainly organizational buffers should things ‘go south’). However, time and again, I have found that while it is vital not to entirely discount credentialing and committee recommendation, other aspects play into the process even more strongly — the candidates ethos fit, overall interest in life and energy for the work; my own personal intuition related to the candidate; holistic team/role compatibility; the candidate being a minimizer or a maximizer, a person who value-adds or who just gets it done; etc.
    I am all for healthy boundarying in work. However, I find that minimizers keep their supervisors on their toes to make sure that they are not being organizationally overburdened. It is the opposite with maximizers. With maximizers, supervisors need to make sure to stay on their toes to make certain on behalf of the maximizer that that the organization is not overly taking advantage of their commitment. See…both groups need an aware supervisor, but for different reasons. This is way too simplified. But anyhow, for me, maximizers tend to be my Who. I can see some places for minimizers in organizations, but not in the positions that Collins’ is concerned with in Good to Great.

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Miriam, great job on your post.
    Frankly, this leadership thing at time is such a sloppy topic. I just believe in getting things done, as long as they are solving a problem. I was moved by Collins’s perspective on getting the right people, but they are hard to find Miriam. People who take initiative and make the right decisions for the organizations and the community. You write, “Collins is not talking about the right people being your buddies, your favorites, or your “yes” people. And he is not talking about the wrong people being your enemies. The right people are those who are able to adapt to changes in direction or strategy.” Love it!

    Thanks and see you soon

  6. Hey Miriam,

    I was also pleasantly surprised to the description of the top leaders. This level 5 leadership of humility and strong will, tenaciousness. Putting others before yourself. What a novel idea. This is the type of leadership Jesus advocated for. Phil 2:2. It is sad that within the church we have such selfish leaders who care only about themselves and how others can serve them. May the Lord forgive us and may we each strive to become that humble level 5 leader who seeks to serve rather than to be served.

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