BIGGER FASTER LEADERSHIP Lessons from the Builders of the Panama Canal

In his latest release in the Leadership Network NEXT/Harper Collins Christian Publishing Book Series, renowned leadership consultant, Samuel R. Chand details the account of the construction of the Panama Canal and draws parallels between it and successful leadership methodology.

“More passion isn’t the answer, and bigger dreams aren’t always the solution. Every leader is asking two questions: How can we grow? How can we grow faster? The only way organizations can grow bigger and move faster is by accelerating the excellence of their systems and structures.”

—from Bigger Faster Leadership: Lessons from the Builders of the Panama Canal

An epiphany during a visit to the Panama Canal led me to bold new insights on the life cycle of business or church organizations.

Simply: The size and speed of an organization are controlled by its systems and structures.

Too often, leaders become focused on the wrong questions, which inevitably lead to misguided solutions. When they concentrate on systems and structures, they’re “majoring on the majors.” Will there be questions about money, facilities, programs, and schedules? Of course, but those are secondary concerns. The most important issues—the ones that determine real success—are always about systems (the processes of the budget, building, programs, manufacturing, marketing, etc.) and structures (the people in the organizational chart who implement the processes). When Jim Collins said in Good to Great that leaders need to get the right people on the bus, he was right, but first, you must have the bus! That’s the system. The “right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus)” is the organizational structure.

The principles I learned from the Panama Canal apply to every kind of organization. After I told a friend what I’d learned, he had dinner with Phil, a man who had recently retired from an executive position in a major manufacturing firm. As soon as my friend explained that the size and speed of an organization depend on the systems and structures, Phil immediately said, “That’s the difference between our company and our top competitor. The leaders at our company never focused on creating outstanding systems and structures. The leaders at the other company created a strong culture with effective systems of operation, and they hired and trained people exceptionally well.”

My friend was surprised by Phil’s instant understanding of the principle and his analysis of two companies. My friend asked, “How did the top managers at your company lead?”

Phil grimaced a bit and answered, “They always looked for heroes.”

My friend asked, “How did that go?”

“They ran out of heroes,” Phil said as he shook his head. “It wasn’t an effective management philosophy or practice.”

You’re a leader because you want to make a difference, and you want to have a growing impact on others. You want more size and speed for your organization. In this book, I’ll help you create better systems and structures that help you get where you want to go and get there more quickly. You’re already a gifted, dedicated leader. I want to make you a more effective one.