Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How the Mighty Fall

One of the books that our Principal Susan Phillips read over the summer and discussed the first day of school was a Jim Collins' book, How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In. I've been a real Jim Collins' fan every since our Leadership Team studied Good to Great several years ago. Even though the book is a study of great companies, so much of the work seems applicable to a school setting. I think of all the books that our Leadership Team has studied, Good to Great is the one that we quote the most often. I couldn't wait to get my hands on How the Mighty Fall. While it is certainly a darker book than Good to Great, it gave me plenty of ideas to ponder.

One of the things that struck me about this book is how great companies began to fall when they moved away from their core values. That is not to say that companies didn't need to change with the times but it was those core values - for us returning again and again to risks, relationships and results - that have to remain at the center of decisions even when success floods the air we breath. I was amazed at how Collins described great companies that began to believe that they were too great and to become undisciplined. Even in the face of data that would indicate they were in trouble, they stood steadfast in their denial. They had the "we're just too great for that to be true" attitude. When I look at the success that we have had at Chets Creek I understand how that can happen. It would be easy to begin to believe that we are invincible and can do no wrong but it is at the cusp of that attitude that a fall can begin. We must always be willing to be brutally honest with ourselves and to listen openly to the criticism. It's too easy to ignore the criticism and just say that our teachers are spoiled and they just don't know what it's like in other places. That is an excuse. That is denial. That can be the beginning of a fall.

The other part of this book that grabbed me was Collin's discussion of the type of leaders that made the real difference. It was not the charismatic, dynamic innovator that comes in on the white horse to rescue the fall, but it was the home grown successor that had the company's DNA in his bones that was the hero. It was the humble leader that listened and did not get defensive that was able to make a difference. It was the one that wanted to create a company where workers could retire and be proud and encourage their children to follow them in their work, instead of the one that was looking for a step up to the next great job that made the difference - the kind of self-sacrificing leader that was willing to lay it all on the line simply to make a better place. When I think of Chets Creek from its charismatic founder, followed by a creative manager, I have to wonder how our next successor will be chosen. In the most successful companies, who were able to turn around adversity, that person came from within the company and was nurtured and trained for the job much like our founder groomed her replacement. Are we doing that now at Chets Creek? Do we have the next wave of leadership working to be ready when the time comes? And even if we have that next Leadership Team ready, will our District, who has the final decision, have the wisdom to value our forethought and planning? I guess... only time will tell...

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