Jim Collins is famous for his book Good to Great. In Good to Great, he stated that one of the most important aspects in developing a great company was that if you wanted to be great, you first needed to talk about “who” and not “where”. Collins felt that you needed to get the right people on the bus (and implicitly, the wrong people off the bus) before you decided where you were going to go. I believe that it isn’t as much getting the right people on the bus as it is about getting the most out of those who are on the bus. I think this is an under examined aspect of Collins’ work in that I believe you can achieve tremendous results with the people you have. Change in an organization is never easy, but with a bit of courage, tenacity, common vision and collaboration, you can make a huge difference.
There is no doubt that talent and skill matter, but working with what you have can and should be the critical first step in moving forward. Setting a new direction and promoting change can and should include the courage to challenge assumptions that may be outdated or no longer valid. The people who have worked in the organization will know what has been tried, what has worked, failed, and where the changes are needed. As a leader, it is then up to your courage to set the new direction given the information and helping forge a path ahead together.
Staying the course through change requires tenacity. This tenacity must allow you to keep your eye on the prize which is a common vision for a better future that is created together. This common vision isn’t sold or told to people within the organization, it has to be co-created or there simply won’t be ownership from those who need to enact it. The vision has to be realistic and achievable.
Finally, all of this really is about collaboration. What we know and are realizing more than ever is that we are smarter together. It is our collaborative efforts that will allow our vision for a better future to unfold. Those efforts also must be realized by plans of action which take the vision to a reality. In education and in other arenas, we are often witness to great visionaries who inspire others, but we often do not take this inspiration and vision through to an active outcome. It is our responsibility to take our inspiration and translate it to action that is tangible.
So perhaps it isn’t as much about who is on the bus as it is about what you do with those who are already on the bus. The people in your organization have tremendous institutional knowledge. They have skills that are valuable and they likely have made extensive contributions to the organization. They have a vested interest in the welfare and well-being of the organization. Who better suited to help move you forward? In most cases, the reality is that they were already on the bus, and it’s you who have simply been handed the leadership keys. If significant change is needed, maybe the first move shouldn’t be to ask who wants to get off, but to ask what they know and what dreams and hopes they have for a better future together. Then, given those dreams and possibilities, it’s up to leadership on many fronts to help make it happen. Leading from where they stand, everyone can contribute in some way to help realize the changes that need to come.