Jim Collins Notes from the Catalyst Leadership Conference

December 18, 2010 — Leave a comment

Here's some of my notes from when I attended the Catalyst Leadership Conference in 2008.

One session featured Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, Built to Last and How the Mighty Fall.  His presentation was probably one of my favorite at the Catalyst Leadership Conference.  His teaching was richly research based and he shared his content with passion and energy.

Here are some of my notes of what I learned from his talk:

The best overnight success stories take about 20 years to get going

I believe this to be true.  I've heard the quote stated, "It took me 30 years to become an overnight success."  Change doesn't happen quickly and neither does success. 

Collins relates this idea to a flywheel.  A flywheel takes a lot of effort to move and to get rolling.  However, once it's moving, it keeps going with very little effort. 

Work also compounds itself day after day.  Similar to compounding interest, what we do today, affects tomorrow, and tomorrow's work affects the next day.  Every little bit of positive work makes a difference and becomes a sum at the end of it all.  And the sum of lots of hard work and good effort is an overnight success. 

Two examples: after seven years the founder of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton had only opened two Wal-Mart stores, and after 13 years of operation, Starbucks only had five locations.  It took each of them a while to get the flywheel turning.

The ultimate test of your leadership is how the work goes after you're gone

When the person in a leadership person changes, the work might not go on at all.  That's probably an example of poor leadership.  But great leadership is when the work goes on after you are gone, and the organization continues to grow. 

Even important work might not go on after a leader is gone.  Not because the work isn't important, but because the old leadership wasn't skilled enough to have trained and laid a foundation for others leaders to clearly follow in his footsteps. 

This is why it's so important that leaders take time to plan and set in place systems to keep the organization going after he is gone.

The #1 characteristic of a great leader is humility

If you've worked for a great leader, I'm sure you know this to be true. 

No one likes being around someone who thinks his feces doesn't stink.  Especially when it comes to leaders, yet it seems to be most common with leaders.  So you've written a book, spoke at a conference, started a company, founded your own foundation.  Big deal, write your mom about it and get it over with! 

Leaders need to be humble.  Humility allows them to reach down to the people they work with to pull them up. 

Nonprofits should not focus on being more like businesses, they should focus on being great

Very true.  Nonprofits and businesses are founded and started with two totally different missions and mindsets.  So why would you manage and lead them the same way?  One is focused on serving people by providing services free of charge, often to the poorest most underprivileged people in the community.  While the other is focused on providing a "product" which can be sold at the highest possible value to make the founder and creator of the company rich. 

Why would you lead these two organizations the same way?  You shouldn't lead them the same way because the people who are going to be attracted to work at the two organizations are extremely different.  People working in a nonprofit serving needy people are going to be motivated by total different methods than people working in a for-profit company. 

As someone who works in the nonprofit sector, I get sick and tired of people saying, "Nonprofits should be ran like businesses."  In my experience the only people who are saying this are people who spent their entire career in the business sector, but now are volunteering or have just started working at a nonprofit. 

Besides, why would a nonprofit be ran like a business?  I've often heard that over 60 percent of new businesses fail within five years.  So why should a nonprofit be ran like something which is more likely to be shut down in five years rather than survive?  That doens't seem to be very intelligent to me, does it to you?

Question: What Jim Collins books have you read and what have you learned from them?

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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