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Best leadership quotes from Jim Collins – Roadmap to Greatness

Leadership and management quotes to inspire from global leadership guru Jim Collins at our 2021 solo event

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Frankly, most leaders could do with an inspiring quote right now.

So here you’ll find 70 of the best leadership quotes from one of the most valuable events of 2021: Jim Collins – Roadmap to Greatness.

More than 4000 chief executives, managers, and executives joined The Growth Faculty event to hear the much-quoted leadership guru.

Jim Collins fleshed out for business leaders the key concepts in his new book BE 2.0 (Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0).

As well, Jim outlined his new leadership tool The Map which orders his famous concepts into a sequential and logical framework.

In this selection you'll find the best quotes on success traits of leaders and managers, plus a lot more.

Leadership and management quotes from Jim Collins

"One of the things we’ve learned in all our research is that it all begins with people."

"Great vision without great people is irrelevant."

"The principle is not getting the right people on the bus, it’s FIRST getting the right people on the bus."

"What are the brutal facts that we must confront? Because if we don’t confront them, they will confront us."

"What are we deeply passionate about? What can we be the best in the world at? What drives our economic/resource engine?"

"What must we discontinue?"

Jim's quote on the flywheel and 20-mile march

"The key question is what’s your flywheel?"

"We must exert self-control in a world that is out of control. 20-mile march, 20-mile march, 20-mile march, day in day out."

"When you have a flywheel and you renew and extend it by firing bullets and cannonballs you are likely to see a tremendous sense of “up” in your company. But how do you make it endure? "

"Practise productive paranoia…What it? What if? What if?"

"For those of you who are really successful, I want you to be truly afraid, truly paranoid."

"You may have a single great idea for the moment, but then the moment’s changed." "Great entrepreneurs make the shift from being 'time tellers' to being 'clock-builders'."

"It’s a yin yang; preserve the core and stimulate progress."

"A truly innovative company has a core ideology that it preserves over time."

Jim Collins quotes on BHAG - Big Hairy Audacious Goal

"One of the best ways to stimulate progress is our old friend – the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)."

"Set goals that are so big, so hairy, they make you gulp. When you’re about to fall asleep, your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is there by your bed all hairy with glowing eyes. When you wake up it’s there: 'Good morning, I am your BHAG. I own your life'.” 

"There’s no evidence that our big winners got more good luck. They got higher returns on their good luck." 

"3 outputs that define what a great company is: superior results, distinctive impact, and lasting endurance." 

"The moment that you begin to think ‘we are great’ your slide towards mediocrity will have begun."

Jim Collins quotes on mentors and Level 5 leaders

"I’m only 63 years old and my mentor Peter Drucker did 2/3 of his work after age of 65."

"True leadership only exists when people follow when they would otherwise have the freedom to not follow."

"Eisenhower said 'Leadership is the art of getting people who want to do what must be done'. Every leader has his or her own artistry."

"No matter what role of life you’re in, you are a leader."

"There’s a powerful certain type of leader: A Level 5 leader has this personal humility and this indominable will."

"As the company makes its journey you need to make your own (leadership) journey."

"The essence of level 5 leadership begins with a question, what cause do you serve?"

Jim Collins quotes on the new normal

"I don’t think I will see another new normal in the rest of my life. There will only be a continuous series of not normal episodes."

"People say you cannot predict black swans, they’re wrong. I can predict with 100% certainty that there will be black swans."

"First who, then what, because we can’t predict the what."

Jim's quotes on Who luck

"The number one metric to track is what percentage of the key seats on your bus or mini-bus are filled with the right people for those key seats? Is it 90% or above? If the answer’s no, you have just identified your No. 1 responsibility."

"I want to up the ante on the who thing. I want you to have Jorge Paulo Lemann's dilemma...too many great people."

"Do you have your 'who' hat on all the time? You think about who all the time. One of the most powerful things is 'who' luck."

"I got engaged four days after meeting my wife Joanne, that’s 40 years’ return on who luck."

"Try to turn everything from a What question to a Who question? If you get cancer, it’s Who’s the best oncologist?"

"A great life is when you get to spend your time absorbed in meaningful work you love with people you love."

Jim Collins quotes on Amazon and the flywheel

"I’ve come to really appreciate the power of the flywheel, because of the great student I once had. (Jeff Bezos, Amazon)."

"(I told Amazon)…don’t respond to this as a crisis, respond as a flywheel. They asked a beautiful question – what is our specific flywheel?"

"What is Amazon? It’s not a static strategy, it’s a flywheel."

"I want you to commit to get your flywheel right."

"The key (to a flywheel) is the inexorable logic of momentum. 'You can’t help but' – ingrain that in your mind. (eg.If you lower costs on your mutual funds then 'you can’t help but' deliver superior returns….)"

"Where does our flywheel start? It might be a customer flywheel, or a service flywheel, or an innovation flywheel."

"When you look at a great flywheel, you have a right side (12-6) and left side (6-12). The right side is the role you play in the world, then as you come up the other side, it’s how you covert that into fuel."

Jim quotes on mentors

"I felt very resentful I didn’t have a dad. Then I woke up and realised just because I didn’t have a father didn’t mean I couldn’t create one, invent one. I made a personal board of directors. One of those people was Bill Lazier."

"Without Bill Lazier, this Map would not have happened, none of the books would have happened. I want to share Bill with the world."

"What I want you to do is to not settle for just having a successful business, but to set out on a journey to build a company worthy of lasting."

Jim on The Map

"The Map has Inputs and Outputs – the Inputs define the journey on the path to a great company – the outputs are what 'there” is – ie. when you get there.'

"Great leadership at the top doesn’t amount to much without great leadership at the unit level."

"If you drive a mini-bus you say I’m going to make this a sparkling pocket of greatness. Then you get asked to drive bigger and bigger buses."

"Peter Drucker taught me to never ever confuse scale of impact with scale of organisation."

"Trust and deadlines. You trust (your people) to manage themselves to do their best work, within a framework. You make sure the deadline is achievable."

"You must absolutely deliver on deadline period, full stop. Deadline means deadline."

"Freedom in a framework, that is part of the essence of building a clock."

"If you haven’t read the book Into Thin Air, I thoroughly recommend it."

Jim on paranoia

"Productive paranoids don’t think if something will go wrong' but 'when'."

"I see productive paranoia and audacious objectives going hand in hand."

"Level 5 leadership is not an understated personality per se, in fact some of the Level 5s have very colourful personalities. But Level 5 leaders, it’s never about them, it’s about love for their people, their company, their cause."

"Level 5 (leader): It’s about what’s on the inside, not what’s on the outside."

"I get very excited about flywheels."

"Never draw your flywheel as 'these are the things that we do' – that’s just a list drawn in a circle. It has to be that A drives B, B drives C, C drives D etc."

"Because it’s interlocking pieces, if any component of the flywheel is not executing at a high level the whole flywheel stalls."

"The secret of mediocrity is chronic inconsistently."

"I really trust my people. I leave them alone to do their best work. I learned that from Bill Lazier."

"If you spend your life keeping your options open, that’s what you’ll do. You’ll spend your life keeping your options open! That’s what Bill Lazier taught me."

Jim's own BHAG and 20-mile march

"I have a 20-mile march. I track my creative hours on a spreadsheet. It gives me a running total that has to be above 1000 hours every 365 days."

"4 types of BHAGS – target BHAGs (Sam Walton, my first store will have a profit per square foot), creative impact BHAG (Microsoft, create a computer on every desk), a common enemy BHAG (we will win, we will crush them…think NIKE), role model BHAG (we want to be iconic in our industry)."

"My role model BHAG is Peter Drucker, he was the most influential thinker of the 20th century."

" My BHAG is to contribute to the first half of the 21st century as much as Peter Drucker did to the last half of the 20th century."

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"Peter Drucker was guided by a deep question, how do we make the world more productive and more humane. Just take in the beauty of that question. Apply it to your company, apply it to a country."

"I’m beginning to realise, I’m not a business author. I’ve come to the conclusion I happened to use business as a data set but it’s a starting point of a bigger question. And the deeper question is about human renewal."

"My own BHAG: My next research project I’m now 5 years into, starts at the individual level. I would love to be able to do societal renewal, then I’d have a 3-layered cake: organisational renewal, personal renewal and societal renewal. It’s got a lot of hair on it."

Final words from Jim Collins - Roadmap to Greatness

"I wish I’d been able to call my dad for advice. I wish my dad had taught me core values. But I was really lucky in my mentors."

"How do you find the essence of what you are, not just what you do?"

"The first is, you don’t choose your mentors for their success. You choose them for their character."

"The 10:1 rule, for every hour that mentor spends with you, you spend 10 hours preparing for, and then synthesising what you learned, in that one hour. If you do that, then your mentors want to invest."

"There’s something in the universe of things, that if you commit to mentoring others then somehow that brings mentors to you."

"Peter Drucker said to me 'You spend too much time worrying about whether you will survive. You will survive. You worry whether you will be successful. That is the wrong question, the question is how to be useful.' That lesson has guided my life since he thwacked me with the zen stick."

"If you are committed to be useful, as Bill Lazier was, the odds you are going to find great mentors are very high." 


About Jim Collins

Jim Collins has authored or coauthored a series of books that have sold in total more than 10 million copies worldwide. They include Good to Great, the #1 bestseller, which examines why some companies make the leap and others don’t; the enduring classic Built to Last, which discovers why some companies remain visionary for generations; How the Mighty Fall, which delves into how once-great companies can self-destruct; and Great by Choice, which uncovers the leadership behaviors for thriving in chaos and uncertainty. His latest book is BE 2.0 (Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0), an upgrade of his first book coauthored with his mentor Bill Lazier.


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