Windows, Mirrors and Success

After captivating the business world with his first big book Built to Last, Jim Collins, the former Stanford Business School professor, published a book that would largely impact the mindset of corporate America. With only an insatiable question consuming his thoughts, an open mind and an army of grad school researchers to support his cause, Collins set out with a goal that has eluded business executives for centuries: what does it take to go from good to great?

Good to Great is an anomaly in the printing world. Since it originally came out in 2001, it has sold millions of copies and continued to sell 300,000 books a year. I have no intention of utilizing smoke and mirror affects to make it seem like my viewpoint is the only one of merit. So my disclaimer: three of the “good to great” companies that Collins cites have performed well below average in the last nine years. But this blog is not written to verify or vilify individual companies. So all I will say is this: do you remember how well the Chicago Bulls did after Michael Jordan retired the first time? If so, do you remember how well they did after he returned?

Instead, I want to highlight a very important part of Collins’ book. He calls it the mirror or the window affect and from my vantage point, it is probably the most important piece in the book. He talks about leaders the characteristics of Good to Great leaders – the executives that delivered their companies to the publicly held Promised Land.

  1. Yes. I realize it is impossible to pinpoint, build a case for and articulate the characteristics of great leaders in one blog post.
  2. And yes, I realize you’re probably wondering what this has to do with you. You’re not interviewing to be a CEO (or maybe you are); you need a job.

Firstly, this is only one piece of successful leadership, albeit, an important one. Secondly, this has everything to do with you, your career endeavors, and your life. You are the CEO of your life. Nobody else can instill a sense of success, satisfaction, enjoyment, or purpose. True success, satisfaction, enjoyment and purpose come from you and you alone.

I’m not saying you need to be the most wise, charismatic or courageous leader the world has ever seen. But whether you like it or not, the train that is you is moving full steam ahead, it’s merely a matter if you want to assume the position of conductor or not.

Window or Mirror?
When something goes wrong, do you look out the window or in the mirror? If you look out the window when things go wrong, you are blaming others, pointing fingers and allowing your ego to convince yourself that you are the victim. If you are looking in the mirror, you accept the fact that external circumstances to play a role in your life, but that you still could have made a different decision somewhere along the line to alter your circumstance. Which do you think the great leaders look at?

The next blog will discuss this concept in more detail, but for now, here is a simple exercise that will help you command control of your life in a small way. Next time something “goes wrong” – your car keys are missing, the attendant at Starbucks is being rude to you, or you finished a project late – find a way to accept responsibility for what happened. Be prepared to challenge your ego; it will say, “it’s not my fault that my friend borrowed my car and lost the keys.” Well, true – you cannot control your friend’s actions. But you could have told him he couldn’t borrow the car, you could have made a spare set of the keys because you know he’s forgetful, you could have driven him where he needed to go yourself.

There’s always something you can control. Find what you can control, look for the opportunity to do so in the future, and begin to notice the small changes that will eventually add up to big changes. Until next time…

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