How the Mighty Fall

“Bad decisions made with good intentions, are still bad decisions.” (Jim Collins)

One of my favorite leadership books I have read in the last few years is Jim Collins’ How the Mighty Fall.  This book was particularly relevant to me because I was part of an organization that was in decline and struggling to survive.  If you are unfamiliar with Jim Colins’ work, he has done extensive research on organizational culture and what factors contribute to longterm success in organizations.  Books he wrote like Good to Great and Built to Last are classics in leadership literature.

But the book How the Mighty Fall takes an interesting twist for Collins.  In the book, he outlines the five steps an organization takes toward “the silent creep of impending doom.” Collins summarizes his research by noting, “I’ve come to see institutional decline like a staged disease:  harder to detect but easier to cure in the early stages, easier to detect but harder to cure in the later stages. An institution can look strong on the outside but already be sick on the inside.”

 The first step toward doom, Collins argues, is what he calls “Hubris born of success.”  It is the false notion that because of our past successes, we think we understand the market, we think we no longer have to listen to others, we think we no longer have to question our assumptions, and we think we are immune to failure.  This hubris comes usually from the leadership of an organization and becomes a cancer that eventually leads to steps 2-5 of an institutional collapse. 

In what I think is a profound observation about organizational life, Collins notes: “While no leader can single-handedly build an enduring great company, the wrong leader vested with power can almost single-handedly bring a company down” (page 62). I wonder what it takes to build one back up.  

Dana Hicks