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What does great leadership look like in a disruptive world?

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Leadership lessons from World Business Forum 2019 session on Leadership in a Disruptive World

Good is the enemy of great; but what do great companies with enduring results do differently?

It is not circumstances, rather, the conscious choice and incredible discipline practiced by the organizations that makes them great with enduring results; but what are these practices and principles?

Jim Collins was generous enough to share the fundamental principles and concepts during his session on Leadership in a Disruptive World. He shared a map of the fundamental principles, which he called a summary of his work and life for the last 30+ years. Without further ado, here are the four principles and my key takeaways from each.

1. Disciplined People

It all starts with disciplined people. The difference between good leaders (Level 4) and great leaders (level 5) is not their personality. Two equally great people could have two different personalities. The fundamental difference is that level 5 leaders have personal humility combined with indomitable will. The willingness to be in service to a cause. For level 5 leaders, it’s not about them; it’s about what they serve. Jim gave us a great question leaders should ask themselves... What is the truth of my ambition?

A great question leaders should ask themselves: What is the truth of my ambition?

Great leaders decide first who, then what. Jim's key advise were

  • Your ability to make superb people choices will determines how great your life or your organization will be. You can’t motivate the wrong people to make them right. Find motivated people, and ensure you do not demotivate them.

  • Do not take care of your career; take care of your people

  • Whatever you are responsible for now, make it a packet of greatness

2. Disciplined Thought

Change begins by confronting the brutal facts. The question then is what are you truly passionate-enough about to confront the brutal facts? Find your hedgehog, which is the intersection of (1) What can you be the best in the world at, (2) what are you truly passionate about, and (3) What best drives your economy. More about Hedgehog concept here.

Change begins by confronting the brutal facts. The question then is what are you truly passionate-enough about to confront the brutal facts?

Confronting brutal facts can lead some people to despair. That's where disciplined thought comes into play. False dichotomies are undisciplined thoughts. Leaders should understand the Stockdale Paradox, i.e. the ability to confront the brutal facts with unwavering believe that you will prevail in the end.

Disciplined people with disciplined thought will make disciplined decision. Practice disciplined decisions, especially decisions about your people. Stop putting your best people on your biggest problems, instead put them on your opportunities

3. Disciplined Action

Disciplined action is all about turning the flywheel. Leaders should start with getting clarity on the flywheel. Jim's advise to attendees was to identify what the essence of our flywheel is and where the flywheel starts. Then, turn the flywheel, and build momentum.

There isn’t just one thing that will turn the fly wheel; it is a series of disciplined decisions. Our disciplines not conditions determine our results. Chronic inconsistency is the signature of mediocrity.

Accelerate the flywheel, and hit break through by applying the Twenty-Mile March.

Recognize that technology by itself is not the cause of momentum, rather it is the accelerator. Scale the right innovation. Renew the flywheel by carefully calibrated shots, then fire-bullet then fire cannonballs

4. Build Greatness to Last

How do you make great organizations last?

Have a healthy dose of productive paranoia. Realize that it's what you do before the storm comes that determines what you do during the storm

Don’t tell time, build a clock... and build a culture like that throughout the organization.

Build a company that is worth lasting. Preserve the core and stimulate progress. Separate values from practices.

So long as you lead; so long as you choose to make a difference, you should always ask yourself "how can I make myself more useful to the people and the cause?"

These are notes from the World Business Forum 2019 session on Leadership in a Disruptive World.

Lastly, these are my takeaways and they way I understood his concepts, which I want to come back to and re-read :) If you want to learn more about his work and concepts, which I highly encourage you to, please visit his website:

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