January 27, 2016

Good to Great: First Who, Then What

Good to Great: First Who, Then What

In the previous post we looked a what makes up a Level 5 Leader. These people typically create strong teams around them that often succeed long after they have left. This is different from a Level 4 leaders whom takes the "genius with a thousand helpers" approach, which typically causes the organization to fall apart when they leave.

The Right People on the Bus

During his investigation, Jim Collins came across a very important discovery. He found that Level 5 leaders were more concerned with getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off, before they set a new direction or strategy. At first you may think that this is a bit backwards but Dick Cooley, who was heading up Wells Fargo in 1983, makes a very good point about getting the right people first:

If I’m not smart enough to see the changes that are coming, they will.

In saying this, there are 3 major points that other Level 5 leaders typically identified, namely:

  1. Start with who rather than what
    As Dick Cooley said above, by doing this you can easily adapt to the ever changing environment as your team will be able to help you navigate though it. In addition, if the people got on the bus because of where it was going, but down the line you find you have to change direction, they will more than likely get off the bus and leave. However, people who joined because of who was on the bus will more likely stay on, even if it does change direction.

  2. Motivation
    If you get the right people on the bus they won't need to be managed as much. Instead, they will have the inner drive to do something great and will give their all to get the best results possible. This then helps you by reducing the amount of time spent managing your team, thereby freeing you to do other important things.

  3. Wrong People, Right Direction
    If the leader does choose the right direction but has the wrong people on the bus, it will more than likely never be a great company. Having the equation of the right direction but the wrong people is essentially immaterial. In essence, you need to put people first!

"Genius with a Thousand Helpers"

If you take a high level look at the companies of Level 5 leaders you will see that they created a strong teams all around them. As mentioned above, in doing this they ensured the success of the company long after they left.

However, should you look at the Level 4 leaders, they tend to follow the "genius with a thousand followers approach" in which they were the driving force behind the companies success. Usually, they were the ones who came up with the great ideas and delegated them to their followers to implement. In essence, the team was no more than a bunch of mindless robots taking order for their "master". When the time comes, and the "master" leaves they will often be left lost without direction and land up like rabbits staring into headlights, not knowing what to do.

It's Not How You Pay Them...

Another interesting finding that I found interesting was that there was no link between increased remuneration and the leader taking a company from good to great. Instead, what they found was that by having the right leader driving the bus they would do what ever it takes in order to make the company great. The compensation that they get out of it is not the primary motivating factor, more than anything, it would be their moral standards that takes makes the strive for the absolute best.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that money isn't important just that it shouldn't be used a the motivation to get the right behaviours from the wrong people. Instead, these behaviours should be inherent to the leader.

Rigorous, but not Ruthless

As the heading above states, the great leaders maintained a sense of rigour but were never ruthless in the process. As a result of this, people who didn't fit in with the culture either quit or were asked to leave. This is all part of getting the right people in the right seats, and if they don't fit get them off the bus. This lead to three disciplines which are as follows:

  1. When in doubt, don't hire and keep looking
    Don't just hire people for the sake of it. Rather take your time and place a higher emphasis on the persons character and their ability to fit in with the culture, than their technical skill & experience. Even from experience I have seen even if they person is a real "genius", if they don't gel well with the team, then it can actually have an adverse affect on productivity.

  2. When you know you need to make a people change, do it
    Sometimes all it is, is the wrong person in the wrong seat. They may be very good at another role in the team.

  3. Put your best people on the biggest opportunities, not the biggest problems
    In doing this you set yourself up for the greater success as the chance of the opportunity being realized is much greater.


Having the idea of getting the right people on the bus is nothing new. However, having the right people on the bus before you know where you are driving it, definitely is. I would like to end of with the following quote from Good to Great:

Great companies know that people aren't their most important asset. What is the most important is the right people.

Until next time...keep learning!