Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good To Great, etc.) was the featured speaker Thursday at the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference in Philadephia. Here are my notes from his presentation:
Great leaders have humility and relentless will. They are willing to be the “stupidest person in the room” in order to learn from others. They less concerned with being interesting and more concerned with being interested. Their ambition is not about them, but it is channeled outward to a larger cause. People follow when they have the freedom not to follow.
Why did Amundsen’s South Pole expedition succeed while Scott’s ended in disaster? They started at the same time, and had the same conditions. Answer: Amundsen’s team was extremely disciplined: they covered 20 miles a day, regardless of the conditions. Scott, on the other hand, covered as much distance as possible when conditions were good, but hunkered down and waited out bad days. Amundsen researched and settled on a proven mode of transportation: sled dogs. Scott went with an unproven technology: motorized sleds. When the engines failed in the extreme cold, he switched to ponies, which froze to death. What is a good consistent goal for our school? (What should our daily “20-mile march” be?)
The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency. When Southwest Airlines started up, they literally copied Pacific Southwest Airlines’ business model. They focused on following that model and making it work. They modified it approximately 20%. PSA tinkered with theirs, modifying it 80%. PSA is out of business, while Southwest is one of the most successful companies in the world today. Great companies innovate differently than good ones. Creativity must be combined with discipline. Creative is natural characteristic of humans; discipline is not.
The most dangerous thing is to be successful without understanding why you’re successful!
A great organization:
- has superior performance with respect to its mission
- has a distinctive impact on everything it touches
- achieves lasting endurance, beyond any individual leader
Greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline, not of circumstance.
12 Questions for Educational Leaders:
- Do we want to build a great school, and do we have the Level 5 leadership in place to make the painful decisions?
- Do we have the right people in the right seats on our bus?
- What are the “brutal facts”?
- For our school, what can we be the best in the world at?
- How can we accelerate the clicks on the flywheel by committing to a “20 mile march”?
- What is our BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal)?
- What core values will we not change for 100 years? What is our core purpose?
- How can we better embrace the genius of “and”?
- What existential threats does our school face?
- What is the right 20% to change?
- How can we increase our return on our luck (both good and bad)?
- What should we stop doing?
And finally, my favorite point (as I’m about to turn 52!):
Real creativity begins at 50, when you have the benefit of experience.