Photo credit: Maxsattana

What it takes for your company to move from good to great

Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on March 10, 2024.

“Good is the enemy of great” are the opening words of “Good to Great,” a book by preeminent leadership and management thought leader Jim Collins, on “why some companies make the leap [to outstanding sustained performance] … and some don’t.” If you think that “good” is good enough, you will never become great. 

So, what are Collins’ most impactful principles to take your organization from good to great?

Surround yourself with the right people

The right people are the most important determinant of success. Collins writes that you should get the “right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats … [and they will] figure [out] where to drive it.” 

Getting the right people on the bus applies to all employees, regardless of organization level, not just the senior leadership team. Quoting Richard Branson, co-founder of Virgin Group, “Clients [customers] do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients [customers].” 

Level 5 leaders are role models

Collins identifies a Level 5 leader as one who possesses “a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” Collins writes that Level 5 leaders are very ambitious, but “their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.”

Level 5 leaders are not imperial leaders. They do not self-aggrandize, and are not focused on the perks of their position. To the contrary, they are focused on building teams within the company that can achieve great results, led by effective leaders throughout the organization who can inspire their people. Level 5 leaders have an iron will to be successful, and they inspire their employees to greatness. Observing many CEOs over time, my experience is that Level 5 CEOs are more successful in the long run than imperial CEOs.

Recognize the brutal facts of your reality

Organizations that think they are great can be blinded and not see the brutal facts of their reality. Collins writes, “Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” 

In some organizations, employees are reluctant to share bad news due to the boss’s possible negative reaction. Never shoot the messenger.  You can’t fix a problem if you don’t acknowledge it. When the problem becomes glaringly apparent, it is much more difficult to fix, or perhaps eventually it becomes unfixable. The CEO loses credibility with the board and employees because problems are not addressed early.

This is what I would add to Collins’ principles:

How do you want your customers and employees to think about you?

Embrace an inspirational statement of impact for your company—one that will resonate with your employees and customers and clearly demonstrates what your company stands for.  

Leadership thought leader Simon Sinek tells about a time he heard Phil Knight, co-founder and former chairman of Nike, speak at a conference. Knight said to those runners in the audience, “The next time you’re out there, before the sun is up, it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s wet and you’re running by yourself, we’re the one standing under the light post cheering you on.” Sinek then says, “That’s what ‘Just Do It’ means.” This is what Nike stands for. This is the type of inspirational impact statement every company should have.

Photo credit: Maxsattana

Set the right tone at the top and nurture the right culture

Employees want to work for a company with high standards of honesty, ethics and integrity, which are key elements of the human side of leadership. High standards are determined by the tone at the top and organizational culture set by the CEO and the senior leadership team. These become the behavioral norms of your employees. 

Tone and culture determine whether employees will trust their leaders and their coworkers. Without trust, not much gets accomplished. 

Become the preferred provider to your markets

A preferred provider is the company that all customers want to do business with, rather than their competition. How do you become the preferred provider to your market? Give your customers a great customer experience. It’s a huge differentiator.

Empower your employees

Allow your employees to make decisions and develop a sense of ownership in what they do. Empower them to continuously improve the business processes that they are responsible for. Celebrate them for breaking paradigms. Don’t micromanage them. Share with them your expectations, jointly set goals, ensure they have the resources to achieve results and cut them loose to do their thing.

Achieving greatness is a journey, one that never ends

Very few organizations ever achieve greatness, even though at times leaders and those who they lead may use that term to describe their organization. As CEO, I would tell our employees never to refer to our company as great. This is for third parties to do, and our response should always be, “Thank you, but we are on a journey, and have a long way to go to achieve greatness.”

You always want to be on a journey to improve. It’s how you differentiate your company from its competition to ensure long term success. 

Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read columnist on leadership. He can be reached at

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