It’s been about 10 years since I first read Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great.” Back then, Business Week called it “a book that seems built to last.” It is. So, when I recently saw it in my bookcase, I pulled it down and re-read it. If you missed this book, it’s still a great read today.

“Good to Great” is a thought-provoking study of business management, examining 11 U.S. companies considered to be the most effective over the previous 25 years. Collins and his research team of 20 from the University of Colorado pursued the question: “What specifically made these companies so different?”

The first thing Collins confirmed was a common attitude shared by all the CEOs heading these companies. ”We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the type of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one,” wrote Collins. “Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will."

Obviously, Collins suggests the starting point for a great company is a humble leader – one highly focused and often driven, sure, but known for being gracious and understated. He goes on to illustrate this conclusion using “windows and mirrors.” 

When these successful CEOs did something right, they walked over to a window and pointed to the people out there that were the reasons for the success. When they did something wrong, these same CEOs walked over to a mirror and shouldered the responsibility themselves.

In comparison, the research team concluded that leaders who were less effective evidenced the opposite traits. When things went wrong, they went to the window to point out excuses and explanations. When things went right, they’d go to the mirror to take the credit!

It really boils down to attitude, doesn’t it? That’s especially true in this recession when the pressure is so heavy on the leaders in our dealerships. And it’s easy, under these conditions, to lose the right attitude. That’s why we need an “attitude check” . . . just like every airplane pilot.

The plane’s “attitude” is its position relative to the ground and the horizon. When a pilot is flying by instruments and can’t see the horizon, he determines the plane’s attitude by checking a dial called the artificial horizon. It shows him where the real horizon is relative to the plane. Bottom line: the pilot must maintain the right attitude for the plane to keep flying – wrong attitude, it doesn’t!

An attitude check - a regular look at our personal horizon - just could keep us flying.