December 07, 2012

Good to Great: Leadership skills in two worlds

By Joe Tremblay *


Catholics, and Christians at large, can learn a great deal from the success of the private sector. Invariably, good and honest success in the market place is but the result of the sustained practice of Christian virtues and the implementation of sound work ethics. All that is good in the success of one’s career and of any given company comes from God. As such, it can be traced- directly or indirectly – to his work of sanctification which is found in the life of the Church.

Still, it sometimes happens that even those who participate in the life of the Church are slower to catch on to the principles that the Church herself inspires. Indeed, it can take an “outsider” (i.e. workers in the temporal world) to teach an “insider” (i.e. Catholics) about those very principles which originally came from the inside (i.e. the Church).

The book, “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins is a study of several companies and their successes over a 15 year period. What I discovered as I read the book is that the principles and virtues that made great CEOs and great companies are, quite often, very consistent with what made for successful missions in Church history.

In other words, “Good to Great” principles are Christian in essence. They are a subtle reflection of those principles and virtues that made the Apostles, the Church Fathers, martyrs, confessors, and Saints great. Although Collins does not intentionally correlate business success with ministerial or missionary success, the correlation is there nevertheless.

The value of Collins’ book, “Good to Great,” can serve a purpose for all Catholics who aspire to lead, not just a small business, but any mission that advances the kingdom of God. No doubt, we can learn from what Collins discovered.

Below is a brief overview of the Collins’ studies. Following that, are key quotes on five different topics:

Overview of Good to Great

“(Good to Great) looks at companies from 1965 to 1995, looking for those that, for 15 years, either tracked or underperformed the stock market, followed by a transition, and subsequently returning at least 3 times the stock market for at least 15 years. The goal was to eliminate ‘flash in the pan’ success from the results. Further filtering was performed in order to ensure that companies also outperformed their industries, so as not to include spurious results showing entire industries that grew by leaps and bounds in a given period. Eleven companies were located that matched these criteria, and were studied in depth, and compared to competitors in their fields”

Good is the Enemy of Great

“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. The vast majority of organizations never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good-and that is the main problem.”

Then he adds one key factor that precipitates the transition from good to great: “Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of ‘stop doing’ lists as ‘to do’ lists. They displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous junk.”

Great leaders: It’s not about you

“Level Five leaders are differentiated from other levels of leaders in that they have a wonderful blend of personal humility combined with extraordinary professional will. Understand that they are very ambitious; but their ambition, first and foremost, is for the company's success. They realize that the most important step they must make to become a Level Fove leader is to subjugate their ego to the company's performance. When asked for interviews, these leaders will agree only if it's about the company and not about them.”

Get the Right People on the Bus

“Get the right people on the bus – that has to happen before the ‘what’ decisions are taken. That can change if you have the right people, but the wrong people will certainly make the enterprise fail … If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could. I'd put off everything else to fill my bus. Because things are going to come back. My flywheel is going to start to turn. And the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.”

Great celebrity status: A negative

“There is a direct relationship between the absence of celebrity and the presence of good-to-great results. Why? First, when you have a celebrity, the company turns into ‘the one genius with 1,000 helpers.’ It creates a sense that the whole thing is really about the CEO. At a deeper level, we found that for leaders to make something great, their ambition has to be for the greatness of the work and the company, rather than for themselves. That doesn't mean that they don't have an ego. It means that at each decision point – at each of the critical junctures when Choice A would favor their ego and Choice B would favor the company and the work – time and again the good-to-great leaders pick Choice B. Celebrity CEOs, at those same decision points, are more likely to favor self and ego over company and work…

Level Five Leaders – leaders who have both personal humility and professional will. These are not rock-star leaders whose companies go into decline when they move on. They are diligent and hard working – more bite than bark. Celebrity leaders often work for a time, but appear to be damaging in the long run, because they don’t create sustained results.”

Great Humility

“The best CEOs in our research display tremendous ambition for their company combined with the stoic will to do whatever it takes, no matter how brutal (within the bounds of the company's core values), to make the company great. Yet at the same time they display a remarkable humility about themselves, ascribing much of their own success to luck, discipline and preparation rather than personal genius.”


Saving souls cannot be reduced to a business enterprise, to be sure. There are spiritual laws and dynamics that go beyond business protocol and conventional wisdom. The Saints give us numerous examples to this effect. In fact, I get a little nervous when I see white collar business men leading missions and apostolates because there is something to be said for those Catholics who are trained in monastic spirituality; that is, they who renounce wealth and even marriage for the kingdom. It is still true to say that to save the world, we have to be set apart from the world. Not always, but too often, businessmen bring too much of the world into their mission. As a result, they do little to save it.

Yet, the business world can teach a thing or two to leaders of missions and apostolates. When good and honest work is rewarded with success, Catholics can learn from this. What they will find is that the virtues and principles that inspired great companies have something in common with that which made for great missions.

Joe Tremblay writes for Sky View, a current event and topic-driven Catholic blog. He was a contributor to The Edmund Burke Institute, and a frequent guest on Relevant Radio’s, The Drew Mariani Show. Joe is also married with five children. The views and opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily reflective of any organizations he works for.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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