What I Learned at the 2010 World Business Forum: Five Deceptively Simple Lessons in Leadership


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Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the World Business Forum, an annual event that has become the largest gathering of senior executives in the U.S. who gather annually in New York to hear from the world’s best and brightest business luminaries. This year’s roster of speakers included former Vice President Al Gore, former Chairman of General Electric Jack Welch, marketing guru Martin Lindstrom, former Procter and Gamble Chairman A.G. Lafley, Good to Great author Jim Collins, Steven Levitt who wrote Freakanomics and Nando Parrado, survivor of the 1972 Uruguayan Air Force flight that crashed in the Andes. And that’s the condensed list.

I got enough material in two days to write six-months of blog posts and I’m planning to do a deeper dive into some of the sessions as time allows. For now, let me share with you the five key learnings that I took from the conference. It was interesting that while the 18 speakers were incredibly diverse, spanning all areas of business, marketing, research and economics, there were some common themes that resonated throughout many of their presentations:

1. The Team With the Best Players Wins. This sports metaphor is deceptively simple, but so true. Attracting, identifying, hiring and then motivating and nuturing the best possible team might well be the most important determinant of an organization’s success. Nothing has a bigger impact on the results of your business and the quality of your life than hiring—and keeping—A-players. An A-player is an employee who creates superior results compared to the vast majority of other people who hold the same position in your industry. If you want to build an A-player team, you need to stop trying to turn poor performers into top performers and commit more time to finding and hiring A-players. Then, invest the same leadership and coaching time with them that you used to spend trying to fix your poor performers. You will be amazed at the measurable improvement in results that you see. It’s also widely agreed that A-players will hire other A-players while B-players will only hire B0 and C-players because they feel threatened. Another A-player principle? A-Player Principle: Don’t try to solve a recruiting problem with a coaching solution. You can’t turn midgets into giants.

2. Leaders of Great Companies Have Genuine Humility and Self Doubt but Also a Singular Drive to Make Their Companies Succeed. Jim Collins and his 22-person research staff recently spend four years analyzing what made companies grow from merely good organizations to great ones and what sorts of leaders were responsible for that transition. Early in the process he took on as premise that goodness was an anathema to greatness. “Good is the enemy of great and why so many things don’t become great.” he said. “We don’t have great schools because we settle for good schools. We don’t have great companies because we settle for so many good ones. And when we look back over a life and see if it is a great one, we don’t see many because it’s so easy to settle for a good one.

3. Leadership Only Exists When People Follow When They Don’t Have To. Businesses should take a lesson from the non-profit world. Leaders of social organization wield less raw power than a business-world CEO’s. They must contend with complex constituencies, such as unionized work-forces, membership bodies or elected trustees. As a result, social leaders exercise what Jim Collins calls “legislative” leadership, relying “more upon persuasion, political currency and shared interests” to make the right things happen. This distinction leads Collins to the assertion that “more true leadership” may be found in the social sector.

4. Live Passionately and Know Who You Are. If there isn’t something in your life that makes you wake up curious and excited to start the day, you will never be a powerful and compelling leader. Passion is what fuels the jet engine propelling you toward your goals (and a more meaningful existence.) Additionally, know who you are. A strong sense of self is the foundation of personal power. If you define yourself by what others think, you’ve already lost the battle. Assert the right to be who you want to be.

5. Follow a Disciplined Plan. People with power have not only a goal but a means of reaching it. It doesn’t matter how smart, energetic and insightful you are if you’re not headed to a destination with a map to guide you, then your intelligence and ambition are going to waste. Greatness means forward single-mindedly, like a hedgehog, Jim Collins argued in Good to Great. The “hedgehog concept” revolved around three questions: What are you deeply passionate about? What can you be best in the world at? And what drives your economic engine?

Jill Z. McBride
Jill founded JZMcBride & Associates in 1996 to provide marketing, public relations, social media and event planning services and consultation. More than a decade later, the firm serves an impressive roster of consumer, business-to-business and non-profit clients. Jill's contagious energy, personal involvement and extensive industry knowledge infuses every endeavor of the group in order to help her clients grow.


  1. Hi,
    Jim Collins and Jack Weltch have a wealth of experience Ive never been lucky enough to witness except through their books.
    The company I work for has hired a business coach that uses a lot of the principals discribed in “Good to Great” and ” Built to Last”, it has changed our business from medeocre to something out of this world. If only others knew what we know the working world would really be a great place to be:)
    Well done, great blog:)


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