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Good To Great Part II: The Gift of Governor Rod Blagojevich

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Good To Great Part II:
The Gift of Governor Rod Blagojevich

… I see my work as being about discovering what creates enduring great organizations of any type.  I’m curious to understand the fundamental differences between good and great, between excellence and mediocre.  I just happen to use corporations as a means of getting inside the black box.  I do this because of publicly traded corporations, unlike other types of organizations, have two huge advantages: a widely agreed upon definition of results and a plethora of easily accessible data.

That good is the enemy of great is not just a business problem, It is a human problem.  If we have cracked the code on good on the question of good to great we should have something of value to any type of organization.  Good schools might become great schools. Good newspapers might become great newspapers.  Good churches might become great churches.  Good government agencies might be great agencies.  And good companies might become great companies.

Jim Collins – Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

Blagojevich – A Christmas Gift to the News Media

blagojevichWe are writing this one day after the arrest of the Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich on corruption charges.  This event, on a slow news cycle, was a gift to the media.  The corruption charges and the publication of the 78 page list of charges against Blogovich are not a local storyto Chicago or Illinois –  its a national story.

To wrap your mind around what leadership and its affect on organizations and governments, one has to look at the positive attributes of the hoped for (expected) outcomes of individuals in leadership positions but also study closely leaderships failure modes.  For this latter endeavor, Blagojevich is a gift.

Empirical data trumps theoretical ideas

We already wrote one posting on Jim Collins book Good to Great.  We like Good to Great because it’s based on empirical researchof real companies over a long period (30 years) of time.  If one comes up with a model of leadership that can’t be validated with real world data – that is, that it works and this can shown using accepted methodology and data – then its not worth much. 

Collins approach is to start with the data and produce a model of Leadership as opposed to starting with a model and then validating it.  This is like any empirical research in the sciences where one lets the data take you whereever it might lead.  The key is letting the data take you where it’s going to take you – even if it does not validate common wisdom on the subject or preconceived ideas.

Commonly held ideas that were NOT validated

Collins found that these commonly held beliefs did not hold.

  1. Celebrity CEO’s.  Larger-than-life, celebrity leaders who ride in from the outside are negatively correlated with taking a company from good to great.
  2. The structure of executive compensation.  The idea that the structure of executive compensation is a key driver in corporate performance is simply not supported by the data.
  3. Strategy.  All companies had well defined strategies and the there is no evidence that good to great companies spent more time on long-range strategic planning than comparison companies.
  4. Technology.  Technology has nothing to do with good to great transformation.
  5. M&A.  Mergers and Acquisitions play no role in going from good to great.
  6. No launch event.  Good to great companies had no name, tag line, launch event, or program to signify their transformation.
  7. Not industry dependent.  The good to great companies wer not, by and large, in great industries, and some were in terrible industries.

 We pulled these out for special attention

  1.  What not to do and stop doing. The good to great companies, in addition to focusing on what to do equally  focused on what not to do and what to stop doing.
  2. Commitment, alignment, motivation.  For good to great companies, unlike no so great companies, these area do not need much attention – they take care of themselves.
  3. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice.

Consistent finding of Good to Great companies – Level 5 Leaders

Collins book, Good to Great, goes on to outline what he found out about the transformation of good to great in the companies that he studied.  But he first devotes a chapter to  writing about what kind of leadership was at the executive level of a company that made and sustained a transformation from good to great.

Since we have the Christmas gift of Rod Blagojevich we will take a look at this contrast.

Collins provides a simplistic view of the levels of leadership.  A more comprehensive model of leadership created by Walt Malher when he was at General Electric, called the Crossroads model, can be found in The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company (Hardcover)

This is Collins (simplistic) model

1 Highly Capable Individual (Individual Contributor)
2 Contributing team member
3 Competent Manager
4 Effective Leader
5 Executive

The real value of Collins work is what he found as Level 5 leadership for those companies that made the good to great transition and sustained it for at least 15 years.

We were not looking for Level 5 leadership in our research, or anything like it, but the data was overwhelming and convincing.  It is an empirical, not an ideological, finding.

Good to Great Level 5 leaders…

  1. Embodies a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious first and foremost for the company, not for themselves.
  2. They set up their successors for success.  Leaders at other levels set their successors up for failure.
  3. They displayed a compelling modesty, are often self-effacing and understated.  In contrast, two thirds of the comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.
  4. Fanatically driven with an incurable need to produce sustained results.  They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions.
  5. They show workman like diligence – more plow horse than show horse.
  6. They attribute success to factors other than themselveswhen things go wrong they blame themselves, taking full responsibility.  The comparison CEO’s often did just the opposite – they took the credit for success and assigned blame for disappointing results.
  7. They attribute the success to luck and not personal greatness

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”

blagojevichWith the work of Collins in mind, lets look at what happended in Chicago on December 9,2008 with the arrest of Rob Blagojevich.

Read the full blagojevich CRIMINAL COMPLAINT.
If you don’t want to read the whole complaint then read a Summary of the Criminal Complaint

 And the bottom line is here

Here is a summary as widely reported in the news.

  • conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a US Senator;
  • threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Company in its bid to sell Wrigley Field so as to induce the firing of editorial board members critical of the governor;
  • and to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions — both historically and recently.

And reported in the media

Meanwhile, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has taken to questioning the governor’s sanity. Spokesman Steve Brown recently twice referred to Blagojevich as “the madman.” And when asked about Blagojevich’s plans for a special session, Brown encouraged reporters to look up the definition of “sociopath.”

A Blagojevich spokeswoman responded to the Chicago Tribune: “He’s not a sociopath.

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune has suggested that Blagojevich may be a Sociopath.

In a profile of Blagojevich in last February’s Chicago Magazine, writer David Bernstein reported: “Privately, a few people who know the governor describe him as a ‘sociopath,’ and they insist they’re not using hyperbole. State Rep. Joe Lyons, a fellow Democrat from Chicago, told reporters that Blagojevich was a ‘madman’ and ‘insane.’ ”

That struck me at the time as over the top. Today it strikes me as brave and prescient.

Profile of a Sociopath

We took the time to see exactly how to define a sociopath.  Read the Profile of a Sociopath

 Here are some highlighs

  1. Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
  2. Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
  3. Authoritarian
  4. Secretive
  5. Paranoid
  6. Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
  7. Conventional appearance
  8. Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)
  9. Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim’s life
  10. Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim’s affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
  11. Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
  12. Incapable of real human attachment to another
  13. Unable to feel remorse or guilt
  14. Extreme narcissism and grandiose
  15. May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

 (The above traits are based on the psychopathy checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare.)

 “I did nothing wong”

 Now this is the icing on the cake

On December 10, this was widely reported in the media

Rod Blagojevich’s lawyer says the Illinois governor doesn’t have immediate plans to resign and doesn’t think he did anything wrong. 

Attorney Sheldon Sorosky says Blagojevich is asking Illinois residents to have faith in him.

One wonders if Illinois has not delivered a “text book case”

It’s all about “me”

We’ll end up with a quote from Jim Collins who, we believe, hit the mark

My hypothesis is that there are two categories of people: those that do not have the seed of Level 5 and those that do.  The first category consists of people who could never in a million years bring themselves to subjugate their egoistic needs to the greater ambition of of building something larger and more lasting than themselves.  For these people, work will always be first and foremost about what they get – fame, fortune, adulation, power, whatever – not what they build, create, or contribute.

Level 5 Leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.  It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest.  Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.

And here we have the antithesis as charged in the criminal complaint

  • conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a US Senator;
  • threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Company in its bid to sell Wrigley Field so as to induce the firing of editorial board members critical of the governor;
  • and to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions — both historically and recently.

For some people in a leadership position in an organizations, it all about “me” – what can  I get?  How can I benefit – no matter what the impact on the constituencies or the reputation of the office.  And best of all, “I did nothing wrong”.  It’s an interesting issue of ethical standards.  In a sense, if you have no ethical standards, you can violate no ethical standards.

Back to Amateur Radio Clubs:
Good to Great; Good to Gone; Lost in Mediocracy

We wonder – do any of the 2,000 ARRL affiliated clubs have Level 5 leadership?   And if not, why not?

On the continuum between Level 5 leadership and leadership as exemplified by Rod Blagojevich where does the leadership of your Amateur Radio club lay? 

Starting in January 2009 we’ll start telling some stories of Amateur Radio clubs in Chicago and see what path they are on – good to great; good to gone; or lost in mediocrity – and why they are on this path.


Read the full blagojevich CRIMINAL COMPLAINT
Read a Summary of the Criminal Complaint
Read an article by Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune
Read the Profile of a Sociopath
Read an article on Blago shakedown on Jesse Jackson Jr for wifes job
Read an article from the Chicago Tribune on The Power of Power
The story and evolution of the Crossroads model of Leadership and Leadership development at General Electric can be found in this book:  The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company (Hardcover)
Jim Collins – Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

“Blogo” in one minute


Written by frrl

December 11, 2008 at 4:58 am

One Response

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  1. Fascinating development of the leadership argument for not only our amateur radio clubs but every volunteer organization. Enjoyable and great contrast between great leaders and very sick ones. [see current news on Bernard Madoff, too]

    Great leaders seem a rather unusual commodity in not only our clubs but also the work world. Any self-respecting egoist (ie, a good strong level 5 leader) would find much greater rewards in a large community charity or still be in a remunerative position. We are left trying to convince our potential good leaders to serve in club leadership roles. Unfortunately we fail to recognize, develop, and support the good leaders. What’s in it for them?

    That, friend, is up to the great followers. Who are these?


    December 14, 2008 at 3:15 am

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