The author or co-author of Good to Great, Built to Last, How the Mighty Fall, and Great by Choice went to West Point to teach leadership. Instead, he was the one who got schooled. Here is a brief excerpt from a feature article by Bo Burlingham for Inc. magazine. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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It was a warm, late summer afternoon on the banks of the Hudson River, and a large contingent of cadets had gathered in the Hayes Gymnasium on the campus of the United States Military Academy. Dressed in gray T-shirts and black shorts, they had come to train for the Academy’s grueling Indoor Obstacle Course Test (universally known as the IOCT), which involves jumping through tires, climbing ropes, swinging on monkey bars, leaping over barriers, running along a balance beam, and sprinting around a track with a medicine ball, among other physical feats. Cadets say it is one of the hardest parts of a West Point education.
On one side of the gym, a group of cadets watched an older, gray-haired man trying to mount a shelf 8 feet above the ground. He was Jim Collins, the best-selling business-book author who was visiting West Point to hold seminars on leadership. “No, sir,” a cadet said to him. “You don’t want to do it like that, sir. You look like an old man, sir. You need to do it this way.”
“I am an old man!” Collins murmured. Then, he tried it again.
Why was the author of such business classics as Built to Last and Good to Great competing with college students less than half his age? For one thing, Collins, 55, is an avid climber and seldom shies from a physical challenge. (For his 50th birthday, he had scaled the 2,900-foot vertical rockface known as “The Nose of El Capitan” in Yosemite National Park.) But what Collins really wanted was the opportunity to interact with cadets, to experience what they experience. With that in mind, he had set himself the goal of completing the course in the same time required of all male cadets before they can graduate–three and a half minutes or less. So he was grateful that West Point’s rock-climbing team had turned out to coach him.
Glancing around the gym, Collins could see numerous other cadets struggling with various obstacles; some of them were not much farther along than he was. Most of them had at least one or two other cadets standing nearby, coaching, critiquing, and cheering on their compatriots.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.
To learn more about Jim Collins, please click here.
Bo Burlingham is Inc.‘s Editor at Large and co-author of The Great Game of Business, A Stake in the Outcome, and The Knack, and the author of Small Giants. His latest, Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top, was published by Portfolio/Penguin Random House (November 2014)