Jim Collins, sled dogs, and traits of great leaders

I attended a speech of Jim Collins yesterday and he was talking about how he and his colleagues have studied the leadership traits of thousands of corporations and leaders and have narrowed down to three critical trades that great leaders have that good leaders may not have. They are three characteristics that if you want to be a great leader you statistically would be in very good company if you develop these.

The first trait he calls fanatic discipline. Leaders who exhibit excellent growth rates in their business and significant achievements over time typically exhibit a fanatic discipline and approach to how they operate their businesses. He was referencing earlier in his speech how the south pole was discovered, and use the analogy of a “20 mile march per day” throughout his lecture. The successful explorers who got to the south pole and back from the coast of Antarctica did so with a simple concept of always advancing 20 miles per day regardless of environment. They did 20 mile, no more, no less, but consistently as they explored. It’s depressing to say this, but the competing exploring team that failed to reach the South Pole did not use this type of methodology and subsequently the entire team died in the cold.

He asked us to identify what are 20 mile march was for our businesses. It is what we do systematically every day, every week, every quarter, or every year without fail in order to drive progress.

He used an example of Intel and how they address Moore’s law. Their 20 mile march was that every 18 months they would double the speed of the processors that they made. They would do that regardless of investment, regardless of growth, and regardless of resources. They would make this happen.

This fanatic discipline made Intel the leader in processor production and innovation. So what is your 20 mile march? Why not take a lesson directly from Intel:

We will double our engagement with [specific talent marketplace] by every 18 months.

There is likely one or more roles or functions in your business that are absolutely critical to growth and revenue. What are they? Is it developers? Is it programming? Is it supply-chain? Is it leadership personnel?

You will know better then we will know. But challenge your team to do this regardless of demand. Do this as a percentage of improvement to your current status. This is going to force you to use all your resources, have a discussion about what you can and cannot do, and also be doing directly tied to the advancement and development around the growth of your business.

Imagine where your business will be in five years if you have increased your current engagement by 400%. Where did you think your employment brand is in that space? How do you think you’re engaging those people for future positions? Where do you think you are in that talent marketplace as being a serious developer of talent? Probably much better than you are right now.

I appreciate that you’re going to have to have some pretty sophisticated data collection and business intelligence platforms in order to do this. Those are readily available.

The only thing stopping you from doing this is saying that you’re going to do this.

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