Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Good to Great: Confronting the brutal facts

Preface: Good to Great

This Sky View post is the fourth installment of the Good-to-Great series. To reiterate what I wrote in previous blogs, the book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins, is a study of several companies and their successes over a 15 year period. What I discovered as I read the book is that the principles and virtues that made great CEOs and great companies are, quite often, very consistent with what made for successful missions in Church history.

Although great missions can never be reduced to conventional business methods of success, there is something that the business world can teach those who lead the mission of saving souls. Indeed, some Catholic dioceses and organizations throughout the world operate like government bureaucracies. Top-heavy with administration, Catholics who lead such spiritual enterprises can have a tendency to rely on process and procedure instead of qualified personnel whose highest aim is to glorify God. Chapter four of Collins' book, however, deals with the necessity of facing head-on those uncomfortable truths which undermine the common good of the company.

Introduction: Confront the brutal facts

Christ said, “Love your enemy.” But many of us today cannot even bring ourselves to admit the Church really does have enemies even though Scripture could not be more clear on this. The spiritual heritage of Catholicism abounds with saints, popes and councils teaching that the flesh wages war with the spirit, that the world hates the City of God and that Satan preys on those souls dedicated to Christ’s work. Yet, Catholic pastoral practices, religious education and spiritual formation programs from the last fifty years to the present have struggled to “confront the brutal facts” in the spiritual order. Perhaps, this is why the word “sin” is seldom heard from lips of pastors, teachers and parents alike.

In an earlier post on Good to Great, I quoted Jim Collins when he said that a “not-to-do” list is every bit as important as a “to-do” list. In a Catholic context this is precisely where sin, hell, and the devil come in. We have to be alive to those factors that will undermine our salvation. Knowing what “not to do” is vitally important for spiritual progress. Yet, the moral and spiritual vigilance of Catholics have been relaxed. After all, the 2002 priestly scandals in America were all about not confronting the brutal facts in the Catholic Church. This was symptomatic of a forty to fifty year old spiritual crisis.

However, on a more positive note, there is more openness today among the clergy and laity to confront the brutal facts; not only with regard to the erosion of religious freedom, but even more important, to those daily challenges that threaten people's faith. And once the brutal facts are talked about openly and hence confronted, the theological virtue of hope can do its thing and get us through adversity.  

To repeat, this is where successful business practices have the potential of shedding light some light on spiritual things. Whether we are talking about success in a mission, marriage or business, there are common principles to be found there. Below, Jim Collins provides key insights that every diocese, apostolate and mission should at least consider.

Excerpts from chapter four:
Confront the brutal facts

Good leaders: Take it like a man

"Unlike the comparison companies, the good-to-great companies continually refined the path to greatness with the brutal facts of reality."

"Pitney Bowes sales meetings were quite different from the ‘aren’t we great’ rah-rah sales conferences typical at most companies: The entire management team would lay itself open to searing questions and challenges from the salespeople who dealt directly with customers. The company created a long-standing tradition of forums where people could stand up and tell senior executives what the company was doing wrong, shoving rocks with squiggly things in their faces, and saying, ‘Look! You better pay attention to this.”

"Throughout the study, we found comparison companies where the top leader led with such force that or instilled such fear that people worried more about the leader- what he would say, what he would think, what he would do- than they worried about the external reality and what it could do the company."

"Indeed, for those of you with a strong, charismatic personality, it is worthwhile to consider the idea that charisma can be as much a liability as an asset."

Four practices: Facing the brutal facts

"Now, you might be wondering, ‘How do you motivate people with the brutal facts? Doesn’t motivation flow chiefly from a compelling vision?’ The answer, surprisingly, is, ‘No.’ Not because vision is unimportant, but because expending energy trying to motivate people is largely a waste of time…If you have the right people on the bus, they will be self-motivated.

How do you create a climate where the truth is heard? We offer four basic practices: 1. Lead with questions, not answers…Leading from good to great does not mean coming up with the answers and then motivating everyone to follow your messianic vision. It means having the humility to grasp the fact that you do not yet understand enough to have the answers and then to ask the questions that will lead to the best possible insights. 2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion…Phrases like ‘loud debate,’ ‘heated discussions,’ and ‘healthy conflict’ peppered the articles and interview transcripts from all the companies. 3. Conduct autopsies, without blame. 4. “Build ‘red flag’ mechanisms…If you look across the rise and fall of organizations, however, you will rarely find companies stumbling because they lacked information…[Failing companies often ignored problem spots- the brutal facts] The key, then, lies not in better information, but in turning information into information that cannot be ignored.”

Three categories of victims:

“There is a sense of exhilaration that comes in facing head-on the hard truths and saying, ‘We will never give up. We will never capitulate. It might take a long time, but we will find a way to prevail.’”

“Throughout our research, we were continually reminded of the ‘hardiness’ research studies done by the International Committee for the Study of Victimization. These studies looked at people who had suffered serious adversity- cancer patients, prisoners of war, accident victims, and so forth –and survived. They found that people generally into three categories: those who were permanently dispirited by the event, those who got their life back to normal, and those who used the experience as a defining event that made them stronger. The good to great companies were like the third group, with the ‘hardiness factor.’”

The Stockdale Paradox:

“Every good-to-great company faced significant adversity along with the way to greatness, of one sort or another…In every case, the management team responded with a powerful psychological duality. On the one hand, they stoically accepted the brutal facts of reality. On the other hand, they maintained an unwavering faith in the endgame, and a commitment to prevail as a great company despite the brutal facts. We came to call this paradox the Stockdale Paradox.

The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest ranking United States military officer in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war with any prisoner’s rights, not set release date, and no certainty as whether he would even survive to see this family again…

‘I never lost faith in the end of the story,’ Stockdale said. ‘I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.’”

Jim Collins then asked him, “Who didn’t make it out?” “Oh, that is easy,” he said, “The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand,” Collins said. The Stockdale continued: “The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they said, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come and, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Finally, Stockdale concluded with these words: “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end- which you can never afford to lose –with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”

Summarizing the Stockdale section of the chapter, Jim Collins said, “What separates people, Stockdale taught me, is not the presence of or the absence of difficulty, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life.”

Juggling opposites:

“The good-to-great leaders were able to strip away so much noise and clutter and just focus on the few things that would have the greatest impact. They were able to do so in large part because they operated from both sides of the Stockdale Paradox, never letting one side overshadow the other. If you are able to adopt this dual pattern, you will dramatically increase the odds of making a series of good decisions and ultimately discovering a simple, yet deeply insightful, concept for making the real big choices. And once you have that simple, unifying concept, you will be very close to making a sustained transition to breakthrough results.”