(#185) Who Should Really Get Off The Bus?

If leaders cannot encourage and support open debate—
even when it questions the direction of the bus—maybe they should get off the bus.

In his best seller, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, Jim Collins put forth a metaphor that constantly pops up in the literature, business meetings, and management circles.  Unfortunately, it seems to be misrepresented at best or manipulated at worst.

Collins found that great companies did not start with a grand new vision and strategy.
We found instead that they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus…

Every time I have heard someone use this bus reference, it has been in the context that the “right people” dutifully sit in their seats and go where the bus takes them. In corporate speak it is a nice way to tell people to be a “team player” and “stay on point.” To do otherwise would be non-collaborative and violate the interests of the “stakeholders.”

There are, however, two more elements to this bus formula that seem to be conveniently ignored:
…and the right people in the right seats—and then they figured out where to drive it. (13)

This does not square with the wrong-headed approach of weak managers who say “get on my bus, sit in the seat I tell you to, and stay put while I drive the bus. Stay behind the yellow line. And whatever you do, please do not talk to the driver!”  If you got talented people on the bus, why in God’s name are you not listening to them?


Video recommendation for the week:

Jim Collins speaks about getting the right people on the bus and the right people off the bus.


The weak managers live by the clipboard. They do little more than what is needed to check off their bureaucratic to-do lists.  They make a career of saying “No!” or “Let’s wait and see.” The poor managers do little more than kick issues down the road; they fear making a decision that might “not work.” And most of all they would never think of telling their supervisors (or their own egos) that the bus is going in the wrong direction.  To do so, in their minds, would get them thrown under the bus.

And the bus keeps picking up speed as it makes one wrong turn after another. No one says anything; there is no regrouping.  Feedback is considered ill-advised—and any criticism gets that thinker labeled as a non-team player who has failed to stay on point. He/she needs to be silenced.  And everyone stays quietly in their seats, watching the bus gather speed and heading for the cliff.

Image: thephotoholic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: thephotoholic/
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Does that sound like leadership to you?

Please, if you are on one of those buses, speak up or get off.   The consequences of not speaking up can be disastrous for you, the bus, and its other riders. Collins quoted a leader who inherited such a corporate culture. “I came away quite distressed from my first couple of management meetings. Not only couldn’t I get conflict, I couldn’t even get comment. They were all waiting to see which way the wind blew.” (43)

The great leaders want a non-scripted conversation—even if it might change the direction of the bus. They don’t shut down debate—they encourage it. If they truly believe they have “A” team members on the bus, then the leaders want to hear what they have to say. If you shut these valuable assets down and ignore their input over and over, don’t be surprised when they push back or head for the door to work for a competitor.

So, a message to the leaders who find comfort (and manipulation) in the bus metaphor:  If you cannot encourage and support open debate—even when it questions the direction of the bus—then maybe, at the least, you are in the wrong seat on that bus.  Or maybe you should just pull the cord and get off the bus so it can have a more productive journey.

Choose well. Live well. Be well—and H.T.R.B. as needed!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. Please share it (and any of the archived posts on this site) with friends and colleagues. You also can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If you get a chance, visit my Facebook page and join in–or start–a conversation (www.facebook.com/stevepiscitelli).  If you have suggestions for future posts, leave a comment.

Make it a wonderful week!

Check out my website (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://stevepiscitelli.com/webinars.html).

 (c) 2013. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

5 Responses to (#185) Who Should Really Get Off The Bus?

  1. Howard Denson says:

    Steve: Good piece, pertinent to companies, governmental agencies, and private organizations. Shifting the metaphor slightly, we can use the U.S. Congress as how a bus should operate in a healthy environment. The passengers all want to go from, say, Jacksonville to Chicago. The bus can go from Jax to Valdosta and up I-75…or it can go straight up I-95 and cut to the west (where?) above Savannah. The decision can be left up to the driver(s). Five individuals have agreed to pump and pay for the gas for the group. Now let’s go dysfunction: The five gassers want to go to New Orleans and then up to Chicago. Everybody else disagrees, but the five gassers say, “We don’t go anywhere without gas, and we’re not pumping or paying if we don’t go via New Orleans.” hd3

    Howard Denson a.k.a. William Howard Denson III land phone: 904.384.4463 (voice mail available) cell phone: 904.525.8024 (no voice mail option)

    hd3nson@hotmail.com

    website: http://howarddenson.webs.com

    Mowbray and the Sharks (*)

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    A Quandary of Fibbles (*): The Wrong Stuff: Findings of a Forensic Grammarian (*)* Available online at Amazon.com and Barnes & NobleEditor, “The Write Stuff” (North Florida Writers); pres., NFWWriter/editor: “Kassandra’s Kitchen” http://howarddenson.webs.com/Program chair, vice president, College Retirees Assn.Board Member, Stage Aurora Theatrical Co. “Theatre That Inspires” Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2013 12:34:55 +0000 To: hd3nson@hotmail.com

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    • Thanks, Howard. Make for a much more enjoyable and productive trip if we: talk, listen (really listen), every so often get out and stretch, take on nourishment (new information/input), read the signs that are in front of us…and make it a powerful journey.

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  2. […] Who Should Really Get Off The Bus? * If leaders cannot encourage and support open debate—even when it questions the direction of the bus—maybe they should get off the bus. […]

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  3. Nicolas Atkinson says:

    Professor….. I have never really thought of it that way. Thanks for the insight. From my experience, the military is a one-way thinker and doesn’t really have much time for open minded thinking. With that being said, most leaders never truly think of themselves as the problem and continue to waste precious time without ever fixing anything.

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