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The Greatest Threat to Greatness

February 22, 2010
Today we have a guest post from fellow blogger and author Michael Holmes, of the blog I Shall Raise Thee Up. He is reviewing one of my favorite businesss authors and a long-time friend (not really), Jim Collins . Let’s give a warm STC-welcome for Michael!  (Vigorous handshake as Michael steps up to the blog post):
Jim Collins in his book How the Mighty Fall paints a very vivid picture of how easy it is for a company (or any organization for that matter) to slip from greatness into demise. It’s a very eye-opening account of the enemy that seeks to destroy leaders and what they have built.

No one is exempt from this threat.

Great nations like Egypt, Greece, the Chou Dynasty, Rome, and Britain weren’t exempt from it. Great companies like Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, and MySpace weren’t exempt from it. Even ministries that touch the world aren’t exempt from it. It can any attack any leader, anywhere, at anytime, and only a few escape its lure.

So what is it??

It’s as old as the world itself: Pride.


What amazed me about Collins’ research is that all of the companies he profiled appeared to be unstoppable. They had attained a high level of success. They weathered the storms of the start-up phase, remained true to a core purpose, served their customers well, and constantly found better ways to serve. But somewhere along the way they got more concerned about growth: doubling revenues, tripling market share, acquisitions, mergers, growth, growth, growth, and more growth! 

And with that success and growth came arrogance. “We’re here because we’re better than everybody else!”

Pride was the main cause of MySpace’s downfall. You do remember MySpace, don’t you? At one point it was the most popular site in the US. It was so monumental that it became a launching pad for other entrepreneurs and their companies–in fact companies like, RockYou!, and YouTube were all launched on Myspace. Since then it has been on a steady decline: being eclipsed by Facebook, management instability (with their recent CEO stepping down after less than a year), decreasing revenue, and massive layoffs.

The destructive force of pride is mind-boggling! That is why God went to such great lengths to warn us:

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:18-19 New King James Version)
Pride lands you flat on your face; humility prepares you for honors.” (Proverbs 29:23 The Message)

“It’s common knowledge that ‘God goes against the willful proud;  [but] God gives grace to the willing humble.'” (James 4:6 The Message)

The antidote to pride

The effects of pride have never changed but neither has its antidote.

The cure to pride is this: humility.

In Collins’ book, those companies that did return to greatness did it through:
  1. A change in leadership
  2. A re-commitment to service
  3. An attitude of humility

Humility is a necessity in leadership. The best ways to find humility is through service. That’s why Jesus said:

“You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them.  But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your slave.”  (Matthew 20: 25-27 New Living Translation)

That’s why God takes such a LONG time in developing His leaders! He cares more about character than your career.

He knows how important character is in leadership–because its lack will ultimately cause the downfall of a nation, a company, a ministry, a group, and a person.

Have you seen arrogance lead to a downfall?

Have you seen humility lead to greatness?

Tell us your stories!
13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2010 11:16 am

    Hey Shrinkingthecamel,

    Love bringing humility into the mix. I’m leading an organization that is returning to greatness. I think a first step back is admitting failure, mistakes, and misdirection. Humility is the first step to the road back. It’s awkward to everyone who has been at the helm while the organization declined, but it has to be done.

    We also brought new blood in and continue to be committed to bring the outside in.

    Thanks for a useful blog

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell
    My recent blog – The Power of Calm

  2. February 22, 2010 11:30 am

    A change in leadership must, of course, mean bringing in a new leader who not merely talks about but lives out the principles of service and humility through example that spreads to and becomes manifest in employees at all levels.

    Looking back on my more than three decades in publishing, I wish I could point to a single instance where change in leadership (it was frequent) resulted in recommitment to service (both within the company and without) distinguished by humility and care. One of the best days of my life was the day I decided to walk away from it all.

    • February 23, 2010 9:38 pm

      Absolutely Maureen!

      Talk without example means nothing. And those leaders Collins presented practiced what they preached.

  3. February 22, 2010 1:15 pm

    i enjoyed reading the review, mr. holmes.

  4. Andrew Turner permalink
    February 22, 2010 1:27 pm

    My own life.

    “Pride goes before a fall”

    I graduated at fifteen and had been steadily working all sorts of jobs since I was 12. I also had a weird mind that would get me a lot of criticism, being in a small, legalistic town, that was also home to a prominent bible school (which I realize now was firmly rooted in a hefty mix of socialistic Christianity, which really took hold on the Canadian Prairies).

    “Before I was afflicted, I went astray…”

    I was successful in pretty much everything I did and I knew it and didn’t hesitate to let anyone else know it. The Lord rescued me from a couple vices and gave me a good wife early, and I knew that He was with me. He also lead me to leave the trades, where I first started in writing non-fiction (first prize within first semester) and fiction. I also fairly savagely abused teachers who digressed with my preferred marks, and then quit.

    Went to copywriting on almost a whim because the money was good. I had a $12,500 contract in my hand five days later. And the exact line wasn’t “Praise the Lord!”, it was a “F–k you ALL” plus elaborations. So I prayed “Lord this isn’t good.”

    And cut.

    Every job for the next three years went down the tube. Every dollar of savings and debt. Stretched beyond any limit. Utterly destroyed in vocation; it was like cancer. Trades, writing, nothing — it all bombed in amazing ways! Contracts slipped from between my fingers every month. And the Lord pinned me to the ground and ruined me.

    “Before I was afflicted I went astray…” “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline…” “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” “Gain wisdom though it cost you everything you have.”

    I’m not sure that humility leads to greatness this side of the gate, nor necessarily pride; it’s the other side of the gate that counts and that must bear memory — pursuing humility for business’ sake is just trying to manipulate God and coerce him by force, which is always a loss.

    Humility does lead to blessing, though. Incredible blessing, and then the award on the other side of the gate. And often in this life the Lord blesses us in ridiculous ways and Proverbs states it, but it is not a given: proud wicked men reign supreme, often, and good men die poor and unknown.

    I would no longer consider myself great, although I have been blessed by God. But that’s enough for now I think, for me, and that contentment has “been GREAT gain.”

    • February 22, 2010 10:58 pm

      Wow Andrew! That is an HONEST story!

      Thank you for your transparency and openness…and I would agree with you: you are blessed!

  5. February 22, 2010 2:31 pm

    Not pointing fingers at either party, but both democrats and republicans are ‘full of themselves’ and have led to their recent declines.

    From a business standpoint, i knew the owner of a nice little mexican resturaunt that was filling seats every night. He was making money

    But he wanted more. So he decided to expand with a huge dining area. It lost it’s little hole in the wall expereince, the food quality went down and the people left dismayed.

    It was over. It was pride.

  6. February 22, 2010 7:38 pm

    “But somewhere along the way they got more concerned about growth: doubling revenues, tripling market share, acquisitions, mergers, growth, growth, growth, and more growth!”

    Interesting to think about. Is growth always a problem? Or maybe just if it eclipses humanity, or creativity?

    Looks like a good book.

    (Btw, aside to Bradley… I am loving The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.)

  7. February 22, 2010 11:01 pm


    Just wanted thank you for the opportunity to post on your blog. And thank you for the vigorous handshake!

  8. February 23, 2010 8:04 pm

    Outstanding Job Mr. Holmes,

    Servant leadership and empowerment is what Christ displayed throughout the Gospel in reference to Matthew 20: 25-27, and I agree with all Proverbs and the Word regarding pride’s contribution to downfall’s.

    I don’t believe that ‘growth’ by itself connotes pride so we must be sure not to readily equate the two, without understanding. Holding to God’s promise in Joshua 1:1-9 “3 I’m giving you every square inch of land that you set foot on (MSG)”, an abundance of material Blessing’s can be a promise of God (though our Heavenly reward is the TRUE reward).

    Reviewing some of the response’s, it appears that these companies’ failures were most aligned with Luke 12:48 (NLT) 48 …When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” They focused on the growth, not the reason why they grew.

    It gets back to what you most appropriately summarized: Service is what created the growth, and attentive Service (and humility) is required in order to give ALL Glory to God for any success! Thanks again, and great job!!

    • February 23, 2010 9:36 pm

      Thanks Dante!!

      I don’t believe growth was just the main reason for the fall either. The problem is with their growth came the arrogance–and they just grew for the sake of growth.

      But you are right attentive service is truly the key: we grow but will stay humble at the same time.

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