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To Be A Great Leader

To be a great leader, according to world renown business thinker, Jim Collins, one has to have humility. This is a tough pill to swallow for many. Few even know what it is, let alone put it into practice. While humility is the overarching theme, there are three traits that successful leaders have. Plus, Collins adds a twist.

At the 2012 Willow Creek Leadership Summit, Collins discusses the 1911 British Antarctic Expedition to illustrate these traits. Essentially, two teams set out for the South Pole. Robert Falcon Scott led one team. Roald Amundsen led another. Scott and all his men died. Amundsen’s team made it. Why?

Collins breaks down the success factors to three things:

  1. Fanatic Discipline – Amundsen never trekked more than 20 miles per day. He stuck to his schedule. Scott did not.
  2. Productive Paranoia – Even when Amundsen only had 40 miles to go he stuck to his schedule. He even laid down giant black Xs all round his supply depots just to ensure he could find them in case he drifted off course. Scott did not do these things.
  3. Empirical Creativity – Amundsen humbled himself and went to live with Eskimos to learn how to travel in such harsh temperatures. He discovered dogs were superior. They didn’t sweat, and they worked as a team. Scott used ponies, which froze (they sweat), and tried a new technology – motorized sleds. The engine blocks cracked half way into the mission. His team had to pull their sleds themselves.

When we put all this together, we find that Amundsen was fanatically disciplined. Rather than keep going when conditions were good, or when he was just 40 miles away, he was always paranoid that something bad would happen, or a storm would strike. If he over extended his team, and something bad occurred, they’d be dead. He used empirical strategies (e.g., sleds pulled by dogs) rather than using untested motorized sleds.

Collins closed his talk with a twist. He added luck, which Bill Hybels recognized could easily be called miracles. Collins noted that luck can be good or bad, but that was not what ultimately made the leadership difference. Rather, it was the leader’s response to the luck (good or bad) that made the difference. Some leaders squander good luck. Others crumble under bad luck. Great leaders define both and thrive.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson


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