Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Becoming Great: It Starts at The Top

Several of my colleagues and I are reading, or re-reading, "Good to Great" for a new book club here at work. (Our goal is to infuse our educational programs with the best ideas from the books chosen for the club.) This will be my third time through much of the book. It really is a fantastic read for any business owner. I plan to have a series of blog posts on my interpretation of how the fundamentals can be used in agricultural businesses. This time, I'll focus on leadership.

In their research of what made great companies different than good companies (as measured by stock market performance), Jim Collins and team discovered that the great companies had great leaders. They referred to these as "Level 5 Leaders." These can be charaterized as follows. (Read Chapter 1 for the full picture.)
  • They have a mix of personal humility but strong will. They want the business to succeed above all else.
  • They worry about the future, not just their own success. They position the business for long-term success and work closely with successors (heirs) to help them succeed.
  • They are results focused, concerned most about the success of the firm.
  • They share praise with everyone involved but look first at themselves when things go poorly.
  • "Celebrity" leaders, those with big personalities and personal success, were found in good companies but not in great ones. This happened because these individuals tend to be more concerned about themselves than the firm's long-term success.

Think about yourself as a business owner, a community leader, a mother or father, etc. Are you, or can you be, a Level 5 Leader? Are you hiring Level 5 Leaders? Would you respond differently to a Level 5 Leader than you would one with a big personality but less substance? Employees, input suppliers, buyers, and others you deal with will feed off your unwavering passion for the firm.

The agricultural business owner that exhibits Level 5 Leadership sees the business's success as his or her personal success. This connection provides the business with a leg up because it has a champion at the top who has its best interest in mind. This is a necessary condition for sustained greatness. No matter what you may hear, it is very possible to become a better leader. The payoff could be huge!

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