Good to Great: First who… Then what


Remember, the enemy of great is good. Companies and people are content in being good and with this contentedness fall short of becoming great.

Good to Great is structured into three areas: disciplined people, disciplined thought and disciplined action. And in each area, there are two concepts. The first concept in disciplined people is Level 5 Leadership. The second is “First who… then what”.

The key points on this concept are:

  • Transformation from being good to being great starts with getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off before deciding where the bus is headed
  • That means that all the “who” questions are answered before any of the “what” decisions are made
  • Companies that don’t become great follow a model where a single leader genius (potentially a celebrity leader) is surrounded by hundreds/thousands of helpers… unfortunately this approach doesn’t work when this leader leaves the company
  • Good to Great companies are disciplined but not cruel with people and they do not simply restructure and lay people off as a strategy to improve performance by shuffling staff or cutting costs… In fact, if they have the right people on the bus and not the right role, they will find/create the right role instead of laying that person off
  • There were three principles for being thorough in this concept:
    • Don’t hire when doubtful about a person; keep looking
    • Act quickly if you need to make a people decision, but also make sure that you simply don’t have the right person but in the wrong seat
    • Get your best people on the biggest opportunities instead of fixing problems in an organisation, and if you rid your company of problems, make sure to keep your best people
  • Good to Great management teams have robust debates and arguments in search of optimum answers but unite behind decisions reached regardless of any self interest
  • Executive compensation has no particular link in becoming a great company; compensation should simply keep the right people on the bus and should not be used as a motivation for the right results from the wrong people
  • People are not your most important asset… The right people are
  • And, most importantly, whether someone is right for the bus has is to do with whether they possess the right character traits and natural abilities, rather than any particular knowledge, background or skill set

Jim Collins and his research team compared Wells Fargo vs Bank of America. While Wells Fargo continued to recruit the best people possible, Bank of America ran the “weak generals, strong lieutenants” model. The Bank of America model created a very unfortunate culture where people would not contribute to meetings fearing and submitting to domineering leadership.