12 Questions from Jim Collins

Jim Collins has spent a career probing the inner workings of great companies. Below, he boils 25 years of research into 12 questions that leaders must grapple with if they truly want to excel. Collins’s advice: Be systematic. Every month, have your leadership team discuss one of the following questions. Repeat the process annually for five years.

  1. Do we want to build a great company, and are we willing to do what it takes?
    It begins by making a choice, with a clear understanding of what that choice entails.
  2. Do we have the right people on the bus and in the key seats?
    You need to decide whom you do and don’t want to have with you. You should do that even before deciding exactly where you want to go.
  3. What are the brutal facts?
    You can’t make good decisions if you don’t confront the facts, especially the most troubling ones, those that could represent a serious threat to your survival. The key is to do it without losing faith.
  4. What is our hedgehog: What can we be the best at, with an economic engine, and for which we have unbounded passion?
    “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,” wrote Isaiah Berlin. Your hedgehog combines your passion and your special talents with what you can make money doing.
  5. What is our 20-Mile March, and are we hitting it?
    That is, what is the specific performance goal you’ve made a commitment to meeting year in and year out, in good times and bad, and how are you doing with it?
  6. Where should we place our big bets, based on empirical validation?
    You should devote major resources to a new initiative (fire a cannonball) only if you already know it’s likely to succeed. That means first conducting low-cost, low-risk tests on a range of possibilities (shooting bullets).
  7. What are the core values and core purpose on which we want to build this enterprise for 100 years?
    The challenge is not just to build a company that can endure, but to build one that is worthy of enduring.
  8. What is our 15- to 25-year BHAG?
    To build a great, enduring company, you need a Big Hairy Audacious Goal that is tangible, energizing, and highly focused and that people can understand immediately with little or no explanation.
  9. What could kill us, and how can we protect our flanks?
    Paranoia is productive when it helps you survive the inevitable bad surprises that will come along and avoid the disasters that they are capable of producing.
  10. What should we stop doing, to increase our discipline and focus?
    In creating a culture of discipline, it’s as important to determine what you should not be doing as it is to know what you should be doing.
  11. How can we increase our return on luck?
    All companies experience both good and bad luck. It’s what you do with your luck that counts. How can you get the most benefit from it either way, and how can you minimize any damage that a run of bad luck will cause?
  12. Are we becoming a Level 5 leadership team and cultivating a Level 5 management culture?
    The fifth, and highest, level of leadership builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Are you providing it?

Source: Jim Collins: Be Great Now by Bo Burlingham | Inc. Magazine

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