Book Review: Good to Great and the Social Sectors by Jim Collins

Posted: July 11, 2013 by thoughtsfrommyshelf in Book reviews, Leadership
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There are some books that you read because you have to, not because you want to.  That was true three years ago when I read, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, by Jim Collins and it is true of having to re-read it again this year. The only difference is that I am not in the same place that I was in three years ago. The first time I had to read this, I knew very little of the social sectors and had never worked for a non-profit organization (NPO’s). Now, I am transitioning into a position that is going to require me to know how to measure success.

I appreciate the work that Jim Collins has put into making his business book translate to NPO’s.  Unlike a business “a social sector’s organizational performance must be assessed relative to mission, not financial returns”. Therefore, directors of NPO’s must ask the question, “How effectively do we deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to our resources?” This question not only guards from unhealthy applications of business concepts, it allows you to know how to measure success for your organization.

In order to measure success you need to have an executive and legislative leadership structure that can keep the checks and balances in order. The execute leader provides the overarching leadership, vision, and goals of the non-profit. The legislative leader organizes people and trains them to effectively carry out the plan of the organization.  Both are leaders, and they both train leaders, they simply carry their role within the larger vision of the organization in different ways. Therefore, for an organization to carry out its goals, it needs to be clear on the kind of leadership that is needed for the goals to be carried out.

If you have ever worked or volunteered at an NPO, you come to find out quickly that people are either passionate about the organizations goal, or underpaid in comparison to the private sector.  Finding leadership with a very small pool like this is difficult. This is why Jim Collins recommends figuring out the kind of leadership that is needed before getting the wrong people on the bus. He recommends making the selection process difficult and then states “[A] lack of resources is no excuse for a lack of rigor- it makes selectivity all the more vital.” Choose who you need carefully; they will be the ones ensuring the success of your non-profit.

In conclusion, there are three components that are critical to have for an organization to identify and ensure success. First, you need to be able to define what success will look like for your organization by the impact that is distinct to the resources you have. Second, you need a leadership structure that works for your organizations effectiveness in being successful. Lastly, you need to get the right leaders. Great leaders will work hard in their role and secure your organizational goals by developing and deploying your staff to reach them.


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