It is Better to Be Good in Fact than Great in Fiction

This is my 100th blog post in my blog “Helping Leaders Win.”

If I had to sum up one line that describes my approach to business success and “winning leadership” over the previous 99 posts, it would be the title of this particular blog:

It is Better to Be Good in Fact than Great in Fiction.

The whole premise of my approach to “Helping Leaders Win” is to keep things simple, to focus on the fundamentals, and to just be good at what we do.

As a result, my advice and views are not cutting edge, business journal-worthy insights that will take business leaders and transform them into inspired mixes of George Washington, Napoleon, Gandhi, Jack Welch, and Steve Jobs.

The simple, but boring, truth is that we just need more of our leaders to be good leaders and more of our companies to be good, well-run companies.

Not great, good.

Striving to Be Great

Unfortunately, many of us are trying to become great without first being good.

  • You see this in individual’s setting New Year’s Resolutions that will not last into February.
  • You see this in companies’ strategic and growth plans for 15%+ growth every year for the next five years (the proverbial hockey stick forecast).
  • You see this in the repeated calls of new leaders or new CEO’s to set “stretch targets”, propose BHAG’s (big hairy audacious goals), and endeavor to become “world class”, “state of the art” or “leading edge.”

    As an extreme example, in a recent article, the author contended that to be world class was not enough. World-class meant that there were other teams throughout the world as good as your team. Your true goal was to be the best team in the entire world at what you do (bar none).

This aspiration to greatness is hurting many of our companies and many of us. Too often, we shoot for the stars only to shoot ourselves in the foot.

  • The striving for unrealistic goals (and the incentives around achieving them) distorts the company and the individual’s reality, inescapably leading to significant personal stress and business disruption.
  • Companies undertake complex projects or initiatives that they are often incapable of successfully implementing. These projects inevitably divert attention and resources away from more critical needs and frustrate and exhaust the employees who work on the initiative.
  • Companies forget the basics of the business that enable them to do a good job for the customer.
    • Delivering on what you say
    • Customer service (with a smile)
    • Working on the daily continuous improvements and daily innovations that lead to further success

Becoming Great Sells

Shooting for greatness is sexy. We all want to be the best in the world. Business and leadership books about greatness sell by the truckloads. Jim Collins has done exceedingly well with Good to Great and Great by Choice. Thomas Friedman writes book after book about how we need to become hyper-great in the hyper-competitive world or we will be destroyed by the hyper-growing Chinese.

But, face reality: 99.9999% of us will not become the Michael Phelps of swimming, the Lionel Messi of soccer, the Yo-Yo Ma of the cello, the George Soros of Finance, the Jack Welch of corporate leadership, or the Steve Jobs of innovation. And 99.99% of companies will not become Apple or Amazon.

We won’t become great. But, we can become good!

The Importance of Good

My favorite quote (pretentious and embarrassing as it may sound, it is my high school yearbook quote) comes from the novel The Plague by Albert Camus. In the story, Dr. Rieux continues to treat patients and do as well as he can as an epidemic wipes out his town of Oran in North Africa. When asked why he continues to go on instead of giving up or succumbing, he responds that:

The essence is to do well one’s work.

Twenty (or so) years after high school, I would lead my General Managers and Vice Presidents on a visualization exercise. I would have them describe what their businesses would be like if everyone was aligned and everyone was just doing good (not great) work. In every situation we discussed, it quickly became apparent that the business would be excelling and far more profitable than it currently was.

Likewise, can you imagine what America would be like if the vast majority of businesses were doing good work. In short, what would America be like if…

  • Going to the hospital emergency room or the doctor was not like time travel to the 1950’s with the waiting, the paperwork, the surly attitudes, the convoluted payment, etc.
  • Sales representatives would appreciate your viewpoint and see things through your eyes, thus giving you a solution that really works for you.
  • All companies provided good customer service and the sales associates in stores actually knew something about what they were selling.

Solving these problems and having your company work well is absolutely achievable. It requires starting now to focus on the fundamentals of each of our businesses and to improve continuously.

As another favorite quote points out, it is the continual, daily effort over the long-term that will pay off.

We over-estimate what we can do in six months. But, we under-estimate what we can do in five years.

In short, if each of us and each of our companies work daily to just become good in what we do, we would transform our companies and our country.

And, dare I say it, we would become Great!

So, I welcome you to continue to join me as I provide opinions, advice, and ideas for another 100 blogs on how you can lead your business (and yourself) to success!

Thank you for your readership.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Business Acumen, Leadership, Personal Success and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to It is Better to Be Good in Fact than Great in Fiction

  1. Kelly Patterson says:

    David – Happy New Year and congrats on your century mark! Enjoying your book. Hope we can connect again soon. Kelly

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