Jim Collins on Paranoid Leaders

Bad things will happen. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. Even optimists knows it’s true.

Hi performing leaders, according to Jim Collins are “paranoid performers.” They’re always asking, “What if,” and then preparing for it. They think about and anticipate the day of “bad things.”

This “what if” is not the what if of positive possibility.

What ifs:

I hate what ifs. The more what ifs I have the less steam I feel to move forward. I prefer all in. I prefer, “We’re going all in and we’ll make it work.” What ifs distract. One option galvanizes and energizes. Or so I thought…

This morning I realized you can be paranoid and perform. It’s and not or. That’s the genius of Jim’s statement.

Finding tension between paranoia and performance:

Go all in where mission and vision are concerned. But, be paranoid when it comes to strategies, tactics, and methods. In other words, plan for the worst.

Adapting paves the way to success. Perseverance and determination are your enemy if they prevent adaptation.

The danger of determination:

My story is one of perseverance gone wrong. For years I mistakenly thought determination would take me where I wanted to go. Where it took me was continued mediocre results.

Determinations partner:

Determination coupled with adaptation takes you where you want to go.Persevering at wrong things isn’t a virtue, it’s foolishness. Adapt or die.Flexibility works as long as you keep ultimate goals in mind. Lose sight of the big picture and adapting becomes aimless wandering.

What role does paranoia (what if) play in your leadership?

How can leaders prevent paranoia from stalling progress?


This post is inspired by the presentation Jim Collins gave on 11/7/11 at the Elite Leadership Program in New York City.


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