Good to Great by Jim Collins is one of the best books on leadership. Collins not only engages the reader with the simplicity and highly applicable nature of his writing, but also supports his theories and leadership principles with real data and research. Although Collins is addressing companies the application goes all the way to the individual leader. Each chapter title is a different principle. Collins is not trying to hide the keys of differentiating “good” from “great”, instead is found in plain sight. The complexity of the material is not in the information but in the application.
Collins begins by offering his thesis: “good is the enemy of great”. In chapter 1 He throughly explains his process and plan for demonstrating his thesis which he refers to as the “black box”. Then is following chapters he walks the reader through a very simple, researched, process. This process not only proves his thesis but offers any reader the steps to take any organization from “good” to great”. The process begins with the leader (level 5 leadership), then moves to team (right people, right seat, right bus), then confront the brutal facts of the organization (Stockdale Paradox), then walk through “3 circles” or filters to define the Hedgehog Concept, commit to a culture of discipline, don’t ignore technology, finally all will come together when the “fly wheel” catches and move the organization from good to great.
First I love this book! I have a first edition hardback with translucent cover, which I purchase in 2001. Then in 2005 purchased the monograph for Social Sectors. I have devoured the contents; I have organizationally structured my church upon its’ key principles; and it is a required read for all past, present, or future staff. With that stated, I could easily write my analysis for days but I won’t.
I want to focus my analysis on one key component, which is apart of my dissertation research, the Stockdale Paradox. My dissertation is on the management of leadership tension and how it is key to organizational and individual success. Tension management is what the Stockdale Paradox is all about. It about managing and not ignoring the facts. It is about valuing candor, confronting brutal facts, striving to understand before you are understood, and embracing debate for the ultimate good. Collins refers to this practice a “powerful psychological duality.” This duality are two points of the frame work that great organizations stretch their tension between: reality and faith.
The Stockdale Paradox states: “That one retains faith that you will prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties and at the same time you confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.” Admiral Jim Stockdale explains that those who did not make it out the the Hanoi Hilton were the “optimists”. Optimism is typically a good thing and a common trait of a leader and winner, but only when contrasted with reality (brutal facts). Without reality it is pie in the sky thinking and it is absent of tension. Stockdale states that optimism without the tension of reality ends with death of a broken heart. Therefore tension is necessary for survival and success. Without tension there is ultimately a death of something – a dream, vision, organization, etc. Therefore, with a correct management of tension between the reality of today and faith of what will be, greatness can be achieved.