"Great by Choice" by Jim Collins & Morton T. Hansen. New York: HarperCollins Publishers

Key Themes

Jim Collins and Mort Hansen’s (2010) Great by Choice is the culmination of nine years of research conducted by the authors and their team in order to discover why some companies succeed in unstable and uncertain environments while others fail.  The authors studied companies that beat their industry indexes at least ten times in a fifteen-year period while coping with industry changes and shifts that could not be predicted by leadership. This piece of evidence made Collins and Hansen (2010) conclude that successful companies are those that apply caution and discipline at all levels of their organization. In addition, these companies resist major changes during tumultuous periods while unsuccessful companies try to use change as a fast track to success.

The most important theme of this text is the lessons offered by 10Xers, those leaders have demonstrated the ability to thrive in harsh business environments.  Collins and Hansen (2010) suggested that 10X leadership experience is similar to explorer Roald Amundsen in that they assume that challenging circumstances will eventually arise and prepare accordingly; as the authors write, “you don’t wait until you’re in an unexpected storm to discover that you need more strength and endurance” (p. 15).  Thus, a person should be well-prepared for unexpected turns and be sure that increased endurance and strength will help to overcome a challenge. Collins and Hansen’s (2010) research showed that 10Xers share 3 principles that allow them to weather the storms of uncertainty and chaos:  fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia.  Unlike leaders in the comparison companies, 10Xers are committed to their organization rather than the development of their own egos and are able to accept that there are aspects of their businesses, which are beyond their control. They also believe that their internal strengths will dictate their success rather than any external features like fate or luck (Collins & Hansen, 2010).

Collins and Hansen’s (2010) of the traits demonstrated by 10Xers provided a much more optimistic outlook on leadership in extreme circumstances than expected.  Creativity is not a trait that can be immediately associated with organizational leadership, but the notion of empirical creativity illustrating that leaders should not be helpless when external forces threatening their organization.  Instead, the examples of 10Xers profiled in Great by Choice demonstrated that good leaders combine making bold moves and bounding their risk (Collins & Haskins, 2010).  These findings challenged me to integrate the concept of Level 5 leadership and the qualities of 10Xers within my own organization and personal leadership style.

Salient Facts

The theme of 10Xers and how they achieved success within their organization in times of calm and times of uncertainty is explored in Collins and Hansen’s (2010) Great by Choice New York: Harpercollins Publishers essay.  The authors expected their research to demonstrate that, in times of uncertainty, 10Xers are likely to respond to external circumstances aggressively, “making radical, big leaps, catching and riding the Next Big Wave, time and again” (Collins & Haskins, 2010, p. 45).  However, this idea does not lead to one of Collins and Haskins’ (2010) most surprising findings. One of the findings suggests that in the case of the compared companies, those that had not achieved the 10X goals were much more likely to behave aggressively in the pursuit of change and innovation.  According to another finding, 10Xers made a concentrated effort to achieve their performance markers consistently by putting in place realistic and concrete goals and adjusting their expectations to take into account that success takes time.

Collins and Haskins (2010) termed this approach the 20 Mile March and explained that there are two types of self-imposed discomfort. The first type is the discomfort caused by difficult conditions when people manifest unwavering commitment to high performance; the second type of discomfort is caused by the need to hold back in good conditions (Collins & Haskins, 2010).  This emphasis on restraint and consistency parallels W. Edwards Deming’s findings regarding Total Quality Management (TQM) since Deming acknowledged that TQM requires forethought, planning, and patience in order to achieve success (Manning & Curtis, 2009).  Deming encouraged leaders to make a purpose consistent and continuing and emphasized the importance of implementing organizational strategies aimed at long-term solutions (Manning & Curtis, 2009).  This echoes Collins and Haskins’ (2010) assertion that unlike 10Xers companies, unsuccessful ones are far more likely to abandon the pursuit of the 20 Mile March in favor of making large-scale changes dictated by external influences.

A certain amount of controlled fanaticism is a prerequisite for organizations that wish to succeed and the principles surrounding this fanaticism, such as the 20 Mile March, must be in place well before chaotic events occur (Collins & Haskins, 2010).  This finding parallels Collins’ (2001) assertion that great companies respond creatively and thoughtfully driven by the desire to transform unrealized potential into results; however, mediocre companies are motivated by fear of being surpassed, so they react and lurch about.  This emphasizes that a calm and thoughtful attitude is one of the most valuable assets of leaders facing difficult and chaotic environments.

Applications to the HSA Field

One of the biggest barriers to success within the HSA field is the distinction that often arises between clinical leaders and management leaders, with the former being seen as instrumental to patient health and care while the latter may be viewed as much more deeply concerned with financial and other bureaucratic issues (Firth-Cozens & Mowbray, 2001).  This piece of evidence creates an environment of divisiveness that can be detrimental to the overall well-being of the organization because individual departments and leaders do not always work together to achieve a common goal.  As Plsek and Wilson (2001) stressed, “complexity thinking suggests that relationships between parts are more important than the parts themselves”; in addition, according to the authors, if organizations are treated as complex adaptive systems, one may see that a new and more productive management style can be implemented in the area of the healthcare (para. 4)

While Collins and Haskins’ (2010) text did not provide any specific examples from healthcare organizations in their case studies, one may note that their findings could be generally applied to this field. For example, the ideas of partnerships within an organization and the importance of bringing a systematic approach to the entire organization rather than just focusing on individual departments or people seem to be relevant to the healthcare system as well.  Using the example of Arctic explorers Malcolm Daly and Jim Donini, Collins and Haskins (2010) demonstrated that one vital facet of leadership is the quality of one’s partners in difficult times.  The authors revealed that “the ultimate hedge against danger and uncertainty is whom you have on the mountain with you” (Collins & Haskins, 2010).  These explorers did not attempt to deal with dangerous and unexpected circumstances only when immediate danger occurred; rather, they spent a great deal of time in the planning stage so that they would be well prepared for the eventuality of disaster (Collins & Haskins, 2010).

One of the overarching themes of Great by Choice Amundsen v. Scott precedent is that leaders are in their own control, and their organizations, destinies, even when they face uncontrollable events.  Collins and Haskins noted that greatness is not a matter of circumstance, but rather a matter of discipline and conscious choice (Collins & Haskins, 2010).  This idea is applicable to healthcare because its leaders, as in cases of other professions, are responsible for coping and adapting to the complexity of the organization, collaborating with coworkers, clients, and other agencies, and ensuring that contingency to overcome disasters whichever hazardous they can be.

Application as a Future Health Services Executive

As I am a future Health Services executive, I took advantage from Great by Choice, since the book has provided me with concrete illustrations of ways in which I can maximize my own leadership skills while also learning from those around me.  For example, it has been my experience that fast-paced healthcare environments are not always conducive to consistent and logical long-term planning.  Often, executives react to individual critical situations without taking into account the wider implications of their choices.  The awareness of the fact that our positions may be threatened by financial concerns, or that patient health may be sacrificed because of bureaucratic red tape, can create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that stifles progress and innovation.  However, as Collins and Haskins (2010) stated, exceptional leaders and companies are those who do not only react, survive or succeed, but also create, prevail, and thrive. I found these statements to be incredibly inspiring because they imply that good leaders are not at the mercy of external forces, but instead are the individuals empowered to take control of their role within the organization in order to achieve successful long-term outcomes.

The authors argued that unpredictability and uncertainty are the reality of life; they added that it is crucial for leaders to develop the necessary skills to cope with difficult circumstances long before these events actually occur (Collins & Haskins, 2010).  However, Collins and Haskins (2010) also implied that leaders will never know whether they are up to the task of surviving (and succeeding) a crisis until they are undergone a trial by fire, since leader’s true capabilities will emerge only when he or she faces extreme circumstances (Collins & Haskins, 2010).  I find this to be a somewhat unsettling assertion because as a future Health Services executive, I am not yet able to gauge my own readiness to cope with chaos and uncertainty.  I was reassured when I saw a related question in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the text that asked whether the findings of Great by Choice were applicable to those whose environment was stable and trouble-free (Collins & Haskins, 2010).  The authors replied that “it’s what you do before the storm comes that most determine how well you’ll do when the storm comes” (Collins & Haskins, 2010, p. 195).  Thus, the practical value of this book cannot be underestimated, since I will follow the authors’ recommendations to be a successful future Health Services executive. Great by Choice demonstrated me the need for effective preparation, an awareness of the changing environment that can negatively influence healthcare organizations, and ability to resist the inevitable occurrence of chaos, disruption, and instability.

Long-term Learning

Collins and Haskins’ (2010) book, Great by Choice, along with other readings from this course and readings that I have found through my own research into organizational leadership, have helped to shift my point of view considering what it means to be a leader.  I have long believed that the most successful leaders are those who can channel personal charisma with the driving force towards innovation to meet the specific demands of their specific market or industry.  However, as Collins and Haskins (2010) pointed out, according to their research, that 10xers companies may not necessarily be more innovative and creative than their less successful counterparts.  Indeed, their findings suggest that innovation and rapid change can often result in catastrophic failure because companies and their leaders have not spent enough time and energy preparing for the resulting changes (Collins & Haskins, 2010).

Although flamboyant and boisterous leaders often end up on the front pages of newspapers, Collins and Haskins (2010) illustrated that self-effacement and the ability to put the company ahead of one’s own narcissistic needs separates the real leaders from the pretenders. The authors underlined that those leaders who lead with “inspired standards rather than inspiring personalities” are more likely to fall into the 10Xers category (p. 32). This finding is also emphasized in Collins’ (2001) Good to Great where the researcher revealed the interesting fact.  In the author’s book, one may see that larger-than-life leaders who are used to follow other’s successful examples in organizational management without being aware of the specificity of organization’s market or industry, applied strategy and practical value of leadership vision are less likely to improve and advance their own company.  In the past, I was focused on developing of my overt leadership skills, and tried to become more charismatic.  However, I found it refreshing to discover that the development of strong values, strategies and a leadership vision are likely to be more helpful for me in the future than any specific personality traits which I may already have or may try to develop.

More than anything, Great by Choice and this course as a whole have emphasized that learning is a constant process.  This emphasizes that my personal vision of leadership is likely to change as I enter the Health Services field and gain executive experience in which I can apply some of the skills that I have learned.  In keeping with Collins and Haskins’ assertion that good planning is a key facet of strong leadership, I intend to continue my professional development indefinitely so that I will be prepared for any challenge thrown at me by the corporate world.

Key Takeaways

Having already read Collins’ Good to Great prior to Great by Choice, I expected that I would not learn much in terms of new information and that what I would encounter might be derivative and repetitive.  However, Collins and Haskins’ (2010) focused on the way that extreme conditions influence leader’s decisions that are based on enlightening and thought-provoking nature of environments.  This was especially true with the sections of the book that dealt with the core behaviors of 10Xers, as it illustrated that there are concrete traits common to good leaders that less successful leaders do not possess.  Collins and Haskins’ (2010) exploration of fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia inspired me to evaluate my own workplace behaviors in order to determine which of these elements were my biggest strength and weaknesses.  I believe that I am strongest in the area of fanatic discipline because I feel most comfortable in environments where I can behave consistently in achieving my goals.  Similarly, empirical creativity is also my notable strength because I enjoy working with tangible, concrete information that can be productively applied to real-life situations and would rather rely on my own direct observations than on those I receive from other sources.  My biggest weakness is in the area of productive paranoia because I tend to be trusting and have not yet encountered any majorly disastrous situations that have required me to deal with threats to a vulnerable environment.  Thus, Great by Choice has been an excellent leadership primer for me because it emphasizes the need for constant vigilance even when it seems that there are no major problems within an organization (Collins & Haskins, 2010).

No doubt that I would advise this book to others who are involved in organizational management.  This book emphasizes on extreme circumstances and situations that are both its biggest asset and weakness.  There may be a tendency in some readers to feel as if the book does not apply to them because their organizational situations are not so extreme than the case studies provided.  Collins and Haskins (2010) emphasized that all leaders must be prepared to encounter disorder and turmoil in our complex, challenging and ever-changing world, I think that Good to Great and Great by Choice will provide one with two separate research projects that illustrate the major roles played by leaders in shaping the long-term outcomes of their organizations. If one reads them, he or she will see that these books covered similar ground and complemented each other in terms of main concepts in organizational management.

 

References

  1. Collins, J. & Hansen, M.T. (2010). Great by choice: Uncertainty, chaos, and luck–why some thrive despite them all. New York: Harper Business.
  2. Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. New York: Harper Business.
  3. Firth-Cozens, J. & Mowbray, D. (2001).Leadership and the quality of care. Quality in Health Care, 10: ii3-ii7. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1765760/pdf/v010p00ii3.pdf
  4. Plsek, P.E. & Wilson, T. (2001).Complexity, leadership, and management in healthcare organizations. British Management Journal, 323(7315). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1121291/
  5. Manning, G. & Curtis, K. (2009). The art of leadership (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill
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