Jim Collins on power vs. leadership

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Asked to look back over 30 years in the context of our tumultuous times, Jim Collins, author of the best-sellers Good to Great and Built to Last, offers these thoughts about where we find ourselves and how to proceed.

Make your own choices. Collins says we have a choice between painting by numbers and starting with a blank canvas. When you paint by numbers, you know what you’re going to get, and you feel in control because the result seems guaranteed.

“It might be good,” he says, “but it will never be a masterpiece. Starting with a blank canvas is the only way to get a masterpiece, but you could also blow up.”

Collins points out that there’s risk either way. If you hitch your wagon to somebody else’s star, you may not know the risks because you can’t see them.

Which way you go—paint by numbers or paint your own—is not only a business decision but a life decision.

Choose your associates wisely. The who comes first and the what comes second. Surround yourself with people who share your basic values, take responsibility and perform. “If you cannot predict the what, you have to be able to do a good job with the who,” he says, “because the what is going to constantly shift.”

Update your skills.
Whether you’re running an enterprise in 1886, 1950 or 2015, the principles are the same. What’s changed is the skill set you need, so stay on a learning curve.

Prioritize. “If you accept the idea that work is infinite and time is finite, you realize you have to manage your time and not your work,” Collins says. “You need a laser-like focus on doing first things first. And that means having a ferocious understanding of what you are not going to do.”

Lead. Don’t just exercise power. The way influence can turn a mission into a movement fascinates Collins.

“Business owners and chief executives have had a tremendous amount of concentrated power,” he says. “They don’t really have to lead. If I put a gun to your head, I can get you to do a lot of things. It means I have power. It doesn’t mean I’ve led. In business, we largely have power, not leadership.”

To really get things done, he says, you have to bring people along. “If you want to create a movement, you can’t order it or demand it or will it into existence by exerting concentrated power.”

Collins says Generation Y gets this. He has confidence in the new leaders; that by itself is the mark of a leader.

— Adapted from “In Times Like These, You Get a Chance to Show Your Strength,” interview of Jim Collins by Jo Burlingham, Inc. magazine.

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