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One leadership lesson from Jim Collins that every business woman must know

IMG_3863Every now and again you meet someone who lifts you up so much you wonder if you’ll ever get your feet firmly back on the ground again. This was my experience in working with Jim Collins this month as MC and host of The Growth Summit 2015.

Collins is my all time favorite business author. And if you’ve read Built To Last, Good To Great or any of his books, you may have been inspired to be a better leader and business manager too. Well hearing Collins talk the passion behind his research takes his thinking to a whole new level, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have experienced it (and THANK YOU to Karen at The Growth Faculty for this once in a lifetime opportunity!).

As a member of an elite group of authors who have sold over 10 million copies worldwide, Collins is in constant demand as a speaker. Yet his recent Australian tour was only the third time in twelve years that he’s presented his work outside of the US. I’m sure I can speak on behalf of the 4,000+ strong audience members who joined me in Melbourne and Sydney in saying “thank you and please come back!”

In case you didn’t manage to get along to the event, the structure of the session was part of the magic: a 90 minute presentation by Collins, covering his Jim’s Twelve Questions from across his body of work (which you download here in PDF from his website) followed by 90 minutes of Q&A.


Photo courtesy of


If the audience had its way, he would have kept talking all day (though we then would have missed out on the wonderful Liz Wiseman and Verne Harnish – and they had so many great leadership ideas, I’ll cover those in a separate post!).

Clearly, a lot of conversation takes place in 3 hours and it wouldn’t do justice to attempt to summarise all of it here. But as a little snapshot, here are my five favorite takeaways for those of you to develop your own leadership mastery, courtesy of the one and only Jim Collins… plus one very important take away especially for women:

Leadership exists when people follow, even though they have the choice not to follow. Therefore, the role of the leader is to get people to want to do what must be done. Simply getting them to do what must be done isn’t enough; they must want to do it, even if they have the choice not to. And the key to this is artistry – understanding your signature strengths and leadership style – and using this to influence most effectively. Your artistry could be the power of the pen or the gift of the gab, or even your network of who you know. Just as Beethoven was a great composer, and Picasso was a great visual artist and Dickens was a great writer. We wouldn’t expect Picasso to compose a spectacular symphony. And so too great leaders appreciate their own artistry and use it to inspire and influence followers.


Using this influence, your job is then to build the right team. Getting the best people onto the bus and in the right seats. At every level of the organisation. Great leaders focus first on the who, and only when they have surrounded themselves with best people do they move on to setting the strategy.


This is the Hedgehog Concept – the “what” of strategy – and is about developing and embracing a singular focus on one thing, above all others. This focus will be informed by three tenets:

  • passion (what you are truly passionate about);
  • performance (what you can feasibly be the best in the world at); and
  • profit (what drives the economic engine of the business).


Ramping up this newfound focus, Collins encourages us to embrace the BHAG – the big hairy audacious goals – as the vehicle to achieving what at first may seem impossible, but is absolutely necessary for the future success of your business. BHAGs will be all consuming. They become obsessions. They will consume your thoughts from sun up to sun down, in EVERY. SINGLE. WAKING. HOUR.


Finally all that is left is to back these plans and focus with consistency and commitment of action. The more chaotic your world, the more you need consistency. Any parent of young kids gets this… it’s called routine! And in The 20 Mile March is Collins’ metaphor for the approach successful leaders take to achieving their goals through:

  • fanatical self-discipline (understanding what you need to do with urgency, today);
  • empirical validation (to calibrate and recalibrate your moves to get you closer and closer to your target end state); and
  • productive paranoia (having faith in yourself, but maintaining a healthy distrust that the world will always treat you kindly).

And the footnote lesson from Jim Collins for women leaders?

Collins studies contrasts, not just success. His most popular works look at the differences between uber successful companies, and the next best competitors.

One of his most intriguing insights is that – contrary to popular belief – not all great leaders are charismatic, larger than life characters. In fact, his research showed that the Good to Great leaders have for the most part had a “charisma bypass”. The most consistent trait they demonstrated, however, was humility. They weren’t prone to blowing their own trumpets. They tended to always put their team and organisation’s interests ahead of their own. And they got where they did without being focused on career advancement. Their success was a byproduct of being focused on the issues more important than themselves.  (And, incidentally, Collins is the walking embodiment of this “Level 5 Leader”). IMG_3862

In my experience, this profile is the polar opposite of what so many “leadership experts” are telling women leaders to do.

So next time you’re advised to self-promote, to get strategic about planning your career and to be focused on that vision board you’ve spent hours putting together to hang on your office wall… just remember… that in the best of the best companies in corporate history, the leaders achieved the greatest outcomes when they followed the opposite path.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received, that has really worked for you?

And… a final additional footnote for those of you inspired by the speech by Dame Marie Bashir on International Women’s Day last week, where she urged the NSW Government to address the crisis of the destruction of our farmland – your help is urgently needed!!

farmland campagin jpg

A group of women farmers from the Liverpool Plains – Australia’s most productive food bowl – has launched a pozible campaign and they need your help to reach the finish line. Click here to find out more and get involved – Dame Marie is right, “we’ve all got to take this message to all whom we know… this is a crisis”.  It took me just two minutes to log on and show your support – could you help too?  But you do need to do it today, to help them reach their target and realise the pledges.


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