Posted by Christina Bell, CPA
The Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA) 2015 Annual Conference was held on June 15th at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, Delaware. Over 900 nonprofit leaders and others within the industry attended to hear keynote speaker Mr. Jim Collins. Mr. Collins has authored or co-authored six books that have sold in total more than ten million copies worldwide. They include: GOOD TO GREAT, a #1 bestseller, which examines why some companies and leaders make the leap to superior results, along with GOOD TO GREAT AND THE SOCIAL SECTORS. Jim’s presentation revolved around twelve questions which were designed to help efficiently access the full body of his work. Each question was listed in what Jim described as a highly effective sequence and included the corresponding reading from one or more of his books.
The three most valuable insights I personally took away from the discussion of these twelve questions were:
- Commit to a 20-Mile March – Mr. Collins gave the example of imagining a man determined to walk across the United States, and how he could accomplish his goal faster by committing to walking 20 miles every single day, rain or shine, rather than walking for 40-50 miles in good weather and then very few miles or not at all during poor conditions. Mr. Collins’ research showed that great companies develop a plan, and then carefully and methodically follow that plan, focusing on long-term goals rather than changing course when circumstances change, whether for the better or the worse. For example, Southwest Airlines made it a goal to turn a profit every single year. While the airline industry as a whole lost money during the recession, Southwest achieved their goal, keeping themselves in the black for 30 consecutive years. As Mr. Collins explained in the book, GREAT BY CHOICE, Southwest did it through careful, consistent growth: “Southwest had the discipline to hold back in good times so as not to extend beyond its ability to preserve profitability and the Southwest culture. It didn’t expand outside Texas until nearly eight years after starting service, making a small jump to New Orleans. Southwest moved outward from Texas in deliberate steps — Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Los Angeles — and didn’t reach the eastern seaboard until almost a quarter of a century after its founding. In 1996, more than a hundred cities clamored for Southwest service. And how many cities did Southwest open that year? Four.”
- Practice the Stockdale Paradox – Admiral James Stockdale was held in captivity and tortured during the Vietnam War for eight years and had no reason to believe he would survive the prison camp. And yet, as Stockdale told Collins, he never lost faith during his ordeal: “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.” Then comes the paradox: While Stockdale had remarkable faith in the unknown he noted that it was always the most optimistic of his prison mates who failed to make it out of there alive. “They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.” What the optimists failed to do was confront the reality of their situation. They preferred the ostrich approach, sticking their heads in the sand and hoping for the difficulties to go away. Mr. Collins and his team observed a similar mindset in the good-to-great companies. They labeled it the Stockdale Paradox and described it like so: “You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND at the same time you must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” And, “What separates people is not the presence or absence of difficulty, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life.”
- What is Greatness? – “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”
Jim Collins’ presentation at the DANA’s 2015 annual conference was a great learning experience and I would encourage those within your organization to read over each of the twelve questions. Having the opportunity to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime speech is just one of the many benefits of being a member of DANA.