“Good is the enemy of Great” (Collins 2001). Most companies are good and are satisfied to remain that way while the possibilities and potential lies before them to move to a level of greatness. Jim Collins, following a thorough research of the subject argues in his book Good To Great that it is only a leader who possesses certain essential qualities can make it happen. Collins describes them as ‘level 5’ leaders. They are at the top level in a hierarchy of executive capabilities where the other four levels can deliver well, but not just what it would take to raise a company from ‘good’ (mediocrity) to ‘great’ (sustained excellence). (Collins 2001). What sets them apart from others is a blend of genuine personal humility and strong professional will. Along with level 5 leadership as the primary requirement, Collins points out other factors that include getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus and creating a culture of discipline. However, the real transformation does not happen without Level 5 leadership.
Collins then transposes the good-to-great principles from business to the social sector. Questions do surface at the very outset whether these principles can apply to the social sector. For me it is a step further and more personal as I consider the organization I lead and try to apply them to my present context. These questions arise given the reality that there are indeed marked differences between business and the social sector. However, Collins readily points out that this gap is not difficult to bridge and that leaders in the social sector are able to do this without a great deal of effort. He says ,”Good to great principles do indeed apply to the social sectors, perhaps even better than we expected.” (Collins, Good To Great And The Social Sectors 2005, 3)
The five issues under which all such questions are categorically synthesised and addressed by Collins are enlightening to me as a leader. Even though the metrics used to measure and define ‘great’ in business cannot be superimposed on the social sector, the principles and the four stages that lead to greatness i.e. “Disciplined people; Disciplined Thought; Disciplined Action; Building Greatness to last (Collins 2001, 41)” can be totally applied.
I have thus come to understand that a great organization is led by a level 5 leader, with a committed and cohesive team comprised of the right people, all in their right positions; people who are passionate about what they do and totally focused on doing what they are best at; and finally demonstrating successful mission delivery over an extended period of time.
This sounds extremely idealistic at the outset and a huge or impossible demand. Nevertheless it is possible. A quick look at the Gospel narratives reveals that Jesus was indeed a level five leader with a paradoxical combination of great humility and an incredible resolve to fulfil His Father’s Mission. He invites me to follow His example and walk in His footsteps. Jesus’ call of His disciples and the delegation of His authority to them who then carried out their mission with passion, remaining totally focused on the fulfilment of the Great Commission, all leads me to believe that what is demanded now is commitment and consistency.
It cannot be denied that there is a dearth of leadership at all levels in the social sector. The need is not for just one or two but in really large numbers. The gap widens further as one takes a closer look at Christian organizations in my context. There certainly is a need for Christian organizations to rise to the level of ‘greatness’ as defined and described by Collins and that will be effected only through level 5 leadership as he argues as a result of his extensive research.
Considering the role that the social sector is expected to play in influencing community and society and in keeping its value systems in the right place and right priority, this need takes on a staggering dimension. First men and women with such leadership acumen have to be identified. Then, we are faced with the challenge of training such leadership in executive and legislative skills that will equip them to assume or rise to key positions of leadership. This will be crucial as we look into the future for it can happen only through strategic and planned effort.
It is very easy to settle for the mediocre but I want to become a level 5 leader. I am not there yet; I haven’t attained, but in the Apostle Paul’s words strive to take a hold of that for which Christ has taken a hold of me. I lead a good organization that certainly holds the potential to become a great organization. So, do I give up and look for a leader with level 5 qualities or can I grow to become a level 5 leader myself and move this organization upward? Or do I intentionally maintain the status quo? These are questions I am grappling with as a result of reading Good to Great by Jim Collins.
Collins, James C. Good To Great. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.