There are several business books that I have read in my career that have had a profound impact on the way that I think and lead one of the most impactful talent development firms in the world. The first is called “The Discipline of Market Leaders,” by Tracey and Wiersema and the other is “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t,” by James C. Collins. One of the notable takeaways from the book is the quote and now inspirational theme that “Good is the Enemy of Great.” The concept is that too many people and too many organizations “settle” and take short cuts accepting that “good” is good enough and that they don’t need to do the really hard work to be great. Being just good is the enemy of being great.
Leaders use this quote and the other great concepts from the book to inspire, motivate, and lead. And for many it works, and their people and companies are better for it.
It’s been interesting to observe that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders have gone into “survival mode” and have stopped trying to get to great by accepting that “good” is good enough to survive. They say it is impossible to be great in times of unparalleled disruption. They say when everything changes so significantly, the aspiration of greatness goes out the window only to be replaced by doing whatever it takes to last another day.
But what is great in 2020 and beyond?
Great is doing something nobody else is doing. Great is innovating a solution in a crisis that not only helps a company survive, it helps a company to reinvent itself to become great. To be the best it can be in that market and the best at offering a differentiated solution that customers can’t live without. Most leaders will never have the chance to experience greatness, but greatness must be both the destination and the journey to get there for those who care enough to try every day no matter what the circumstances.
In the midst of a global pandemic it is critical to continue to build organizational capabilities to move beyond good and into great. Here are three reasons why it is important to have Business Acumen, Business Leadership, and Strategic Business Selling skills in a time of disruption to be able to come out on the other side in a great position for the future.
Seeking great drives a focus on the best value proposition to customers
Choosing a strategy and then executing that strategy through people is the hardest thing to do in business leader. I believe it gets easier if you seek to be great because it focuses the entire organization on a focus of achieving a great and aligned outcome. When Steve Jobs was leading Apple, his passion and drive for greatness as the product leader of a technology business enabled him to execute and achieve great success.
Being great is easier to measure
Beyond executing a great strategy and value proposition to customers are the metrics that matter that measure success. Whether it is revenue, profit, net cash flow, or total shareholder return, the financial metrics that define greatness are easier to identify because they are going to be so much better that the competitors in your market because they are good, but you are great.
Great is now, not a future state
There are many leaders who read Jim Collins’ book and concluded that greatness is something you can’t ever really achieve; that it something that lives in the future because if you think you’ve achieved it you get complacent. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the future is now and great is now. The future can change in an instant at a wet market in central China. Time is short and so are the opportunities to be great. Waiting for an aspirational future seems more and more like settling for good.
In conclusion, during a major disruptive change, nobody would blame you for leading your company to just being good. But just being good isn’t being great. During the next 10 years, fortunes will be made, and fortunes will be lost because certain leaders used their skills and the skills of their organization to do whatever it takes to be great. Yes, good is the enemy of great no matter what the circumstances are.