Jim Collins on Leadership – "Like Lean"?


How the Mighty Fall: A Primer on the Warning Signs – BusinessWeek

Jim Collins, of Good to Great fame, has a new book out called How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. Excerpts were printed in a recent BusinessWeek (a magazine that's printed weekly, unlike IndustryWeek, but I digress).

Collins raises some interesting points about how a company's success can breed arrogance or complacency or all sorts of other dysfunctions that can lead to a downfall. One of the difficulties, Collins points out, is that the seeds of the destruction are already planted long before the problem (the fall) is widely recognized or admitted to. A company might have success, although the foundation is crumbling, right up until the point when things fall off a cliff.

Check out the link to the full BW article at the top of the post in case I didn't summarize or paraphrase him accurately.

I didn't see an online link to this table, so I scanned it from the magazine. Click on it for a larger view.

I have a bit of an ongoing series called “Like Lean” where different ideas or practices remind me of Lean and the Toyota Production System even if they aren't called out as Lean. Sometimes, good ideas just germinate in different ways or they just seem like common sense. I think the table above is an example.

If you labeled the left column “Traditional Mass Producers” or “Sloan-ist Management” and the right column “Lean/Toyota Management”, it would still be pretty accurate, I think.

Some right column items that seem particularly “lean”:

  • Leaders never criticize those who expose harsh realities
  • Data, logic, and solid arguments used
  • Socratic style of leaders asking questions
  • Argue and debate to find the best solution
  • “Autopsies without blame” when problems occur
  • Accepting full responsibility and learning from mistakes

Some of these could also be good “Goofus and Gallant” or “Doofus and Leanie” captions, don't ya think?

Does your organization exhibit more of the left column (on the way down) or right column (on the way up) behaviors??

Interesting other tidbit about Collins from this NY Times article — he time studies himself and how he allocates his time:

And in a corner of the white board at the end of his long conference room, Mr. Collins keeps this short list:

Creative 53%

Teaching 28%

Other 19%

That, he explains, is a running tally of how he's spending his time, and whether he's sticking to a big goal he set for himself years ago: to spend 50 percent of his workdays on creative pursuits like research and writing books, 30 percent on teaching-related activities, and 20 percent on all the other things he has to do.

These aren't ballpark guesstimates. Mr. Collins, who is 51, keeps a stopwatch with three separate timers in his pocket at all times, stopping and starting them as he switches activities. Then he regularly logs the times into a spreadsheet.

Interesting, I've never heard of anyone doing that…

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark,

    I also see a link between the way Collins thinks and lean. I blogged about this earlier in the week on my site here: http://tr.im/myMM. It’s a different view than yours, but in keeping with your thinking.

  2. I read the same article in BusinessWeek (proud 10 year subscriber) and couldn’t help notice that same table and how closely the “Teams on the Way Up” column looks very similar to lean.

    Not sure if I’ll pick up the book though. “Good to Great” was an interesting read but I get really sick of hearing the “bus” analogy in the business world. I worked for a small company where the owner repeatedly framed the company’s strategy around Collins’ bus analogy. Fortunately I got off that bus.

  3. There is also a lot of resonance with Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. I remember from the “Top Business Books” thread that it was on your “to read” list. Still not my favorite format – a fictional case study blown up into a book – but a good framework for thinking about teamwork. Did you read it yet?



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