"Clock Builders", "Time Tellers" and Soul Providers

In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras distinguish leaders they call "clock builders" from charismatic leaders they call "time tellers". The former build enduring companies that remain great after they leave, the latter are brilliant leaders who do not necessarily embed their brilliance into the systems and processes of the company. They can tell the time, but no one else in the company can! Great companies in Jim Collins' terms do not necessarily have what I call corporate soul, and many companies with corporate soul wouldn't qualify for Jim Collins' corporate greatness. There is a difference between corporate greatness and corporate soul.

Corporate greatness exists when a company manifests a durable strength, predictable growth and sustainable market prominence. Corporate soul exists when a company's employees are passionately engaged in its higher purpose and its customers are fanatically loyal to its products. (See also "What is a Corporate Soul?") The growth of a great company will probably plot as a straight line with a steady increment. A company with corporate soul might display a peak that exponentially leapfrogs it ahead of its competition and provides it with massive momentum, then to slowly decline after its founder or soul provider departs. The higher it flies and the more embedded elements of its soul are in its culture and process, the longer it will take for its competition to pass it on its way down. As I explained in my last blog though, there are ways that successors can maintain the soul that the original soul provider gave the company or re-infuse the company with a new soul taking it back to peaks of growth and accomplishment.

There is no right model. The model that is authentic to its leaders will thrive and will attract customers and investors who value what is unique about that company. GE and Google attract different people, one is great, the other has soul. Just avoid companies who are neither great nor do they have soul. Those are companies whose leaders have settled with mediocrity.

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