Review: Good to Great and the Social Sectors

kinnon —  December 16, 2005 — 1 Comment

G2GtssAlmost two years ago, someone strongly advised Imbi and I to read Good to Great to better understand this person’s leadership style. We were very impressed with the book and subsequently read Jim Collins earlier book, Built to Last. (Which is the order that Collins now recommends they be read.) There was much in these two books that seemed applicable to non-profit or NGO leadership but there were some things that particularly did not fit – how to measure the success of non-profit organizations in terms other than money, as well as governance issues – a CEO of a for profit company plays a different role than the leader of a non-profit.

What follows is my review of Collins’ new monograph addition to G2G.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Collins begins his new thirty-six page addendum to G2G, Good to Great and the Social Sectors:

We must reject the idea—well-intentioned, but dead wrong—that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” Most businesses—like most of anything else in life—fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are great. When you compare great companies with good ones, many widely practiced business norms turn out to correlate with mediocrity, not greatness. So, then, why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors? [Pg 1, G2G&TSS]

Level 5 leadership is Collins’ pinnacle on the successful leadership pyramid, described by Collins as:

…somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves. [link]

But Level 5 Leadership is different in the social sector:

Level 5 Leadership – Getting Things Done Within A Diffuse Power Structure
When Frances Hesselbein became CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, a New York Times columnist asked what it felt like to be on top of such a large organization. With patience, like a teacher pausing to impart an important lesson, Hesselbein proceeded to rearrange the lunch table, creating a set of concentric circles radiating outward – plates, cups, saucers – connected by knives, forks and spoons. Hesselbein pointed to a glass in the middle of the table. "I’m here," she said. Hesselbein may have the title of Chief Executive Officer, but her message was clear;
I’m not on top of anything. [Pg 9, G2G&TSS]

On page 12, Collins quotes George MacGregor Burns from his book, Leadership who says; "the practice of leadership is not the same as the exercise of power." To this Collins adds,

If I put a loaded gun to your head, I can get you to do things you might not otherwise do, but I’ve not practiced leadership; I’ve exercised power. True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to. [Pg 12 & 13, G2G&TSS]

Collins suggests that this style of leadership, of which successful social sector organizations practice, has much to teach the business world. It is the pattern for future success of all organizations.

The G2G framework does apply in the four stages of building great organizations for both the business and social sectors. Stage Four stands out:

Clock Building, Not Time Telling. Truly great organizations prosper through multiple generations of leaders, the exact oppostie of being built around a single great leader, great idea or specific program. Leaders in great organizations build catalytic mechanisms to stimulate progress, and do not depend upon having a charismatic personality to get things done; indeed, many had a "charisma bypass." [Pg 35, G2G&TSS]

A friend recently told me of being at a church leadership conference a couple of years ago, where the Senior Pastor of the host megachurch was describing his leadership principals and systems techniques to a room of assembled pastors – in a session on how he grew the team and the size of his church. Much of what he said appeared to line up with Collins until he added, "but don’t get me wrong, if I left tomorrow this place would crumble." He was a time teller, not a clock builder.

Collins speaks to this earlier in the book:

…building a great organization requires a shift to "clock building" – shaping a strong, self-sustaining organization that can prosper beyond any single programmatic idea or visionary leader…to make the greatest impact on society requires first and foremost a great organization, not a single great program. [Pg 24 & 25, G2G&TSS]

I’ve worked with a number of charismatic leaders, people who are capable of exciting those under them – visionary, compelling, strong-willed – but at the end of the day, much like the leader my friend described – when they are gone, so will be what they’ve built. It’s been about them, not what they’ve been a part of building.

See this post of mine from back in April, So You Want to Be a Star.
If you want to read more about and from Frances Hesselbein, go here.
And if you’re interest in reading about leadership cults, read this.

PUBLISHED earlier today @ 100 Bloggers.

UPDATE: Read Russell Smith’s review.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

One response to Review: Good to Great and the Social Sectors

  1. Bill, thanks for your link as well. Your blog is an intriguing combo of info — I’ve enjoyed browsing it, and I’ll be back.



What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.