Deciding to be “Great by Choice” -  leadership lessons during times of uncertainty

“Great by Choice” is a bestselling work by the popular writer Jim Collins, whose other business books include: “Good to Great”, and “Built to Last”. I’ve skimmed Jim Collins’ books in the past, but what drove me to finally sit down and read this one was the core question Collins and his researchers sought to answer: why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? Collins sought to identify the qualities that allowed companies to prosper in situations where their peers failed. “We labeled our high-performing study cases with the moniker ‘10X’ because they… beat [their] industry index by at least 10 times.” Needless to say the topic seemed appropriate given the current health, economic, and social climates we find ourselves in.

Business (and life) is full of uncertainty, and yet Collins finds that some companies and leaders navigate this type of environment exceptionally well. “They don’t merely react; they create. They don’t merely survive; they prevail. They don’t merely succeed; they thrive. They build great enterprises that can endure.”

This book helped me realize that by accepting the inevitably of struggle and anticipating future challenges, we can reduce feeling so helpless in our current situation. Yes, so much of life is outside of our control, but it’s how we as managers react to the circumstances we find ourselves in, and how we prepare for the next unexpected turn of events, that defines us. “On the one hand, 10Xers understand that they face continuous uncertainty and that they cannot control, and cannot accurately predict, significant aspects of the world around them. On the other hand, 10Xers reject the idea that forces outside their control or chance events will determine their results, they accept full responsibility for their own fate.”

Below are the main leadership lessons startups execs, managers, and individuals can take away from “Great by Choice” during this time of crisis.

Fast yet rigorous decision making, fast yet superb execution

  • Defined in the book as: fantastic discipline
  • Application in everyday life: take time to evaluate your options- don’t rush into making huge decisions. You often have more time to weigh your options than you might think, and even if you don’t, rushing into change is often worse than doing nothing and staying the course. Once you make a decision, embrace if fully and focus on execution

“Rapid change does not call for abandoning disciplined thought and disciplined action. Rather, it calls for upping the intensity to zoom out for fast yet rigorous decision making and zoom in for fast yet superb execution.”

Break ambitious goals into smaller milestones

  • Defined in the book as: the 20 Mile March
  • Application in everyday life: ambitious goals are more attainable when they’re scaled down into more milestones you can reasonably and dependably hit. These milestones can feel overly easy on good days, and insurmountable on bad days, but consistency over time leads to compounding results

“The 20 Mile March is… about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track. The 20 Mile March creates two types of self-imposed discomfort: (1) the discomfort of unwavering commitment to high performance in difficult conditions, and (2) the discomfort of holding back in good conditions.”

Re-invest in your team

  • Defined in the book as: inspired motivation; empirical creativity
  • Application in everyday life: people are your single greatest asset. Once you have the right team, encourage them to make small bets and invest further if these experiments pay off

“The environment doesn’t determine why some companies thrive in chaos and why others don’t. People do… Of all the luck we can get, people luck- the luck of finding the right mentor, partner, teammate, leader, friend- is one of the most important.”

“The great task, rarely achieved, is to blend creative intensity with relentless discipline so as to amplify the creativity rather than destroy it. When you marry operating excellence with innovation, you multiply the value of your creativity.”

Resilience, not luck

  • Defined in the book as: luck is not a strategy
  • Application in everyday life: we can’t control luck, but we can control how we respond to it.In moments of crisis consider how much stronger you’ll be when you get past this

“10Xers shine when clobbered by setbacks and misfortune, turning bad luck into good results. 10Xers use difficulty as a catalyst to deepen purpose, recommit to values, increase discipline, respond with creativity, and heighten productive paranoia. Resilience, not luck, is the signature of greatness.”