Let me just tell a very brief story to answer your question and then give you the punchline of that story. A man I admire greatly, whom I think is Level 5 in what he does, is a high school science teacher here in Boulder, Colorado, a fellow named Roger Briggs.
Roger isn’t the chief executive of the school. He’s not principal of the school. He’s not superintendent of the schools. He doesn’t run the whole show. He is just a high school science teacher who happened to have responsibility for his high school science department. Roger didn’t say, “Well, gosh, I’m not CEO; I can’t do anything about this,” or “This is the school district, and I’m really constrained from being in the school district; I can’t do that much.” No. What he said was, “I don’t have responsibility for the whole bus. But I have a minibus here. I have a pocket. Even if I can’t make the whole school district great, what I’m going to do is take responsibility for my minibus, and I’m going to create a pocket of greatness. I’m not going to worry about the rest of the institution. I’m going to worry about my span of responsibility.”
As long as you can have influence over who the people are on your minibus and off your minibus and in which seats in your minibus, you can take every idea in Good to Great and apply it. You can try to work on your own Level 5 leadership as a middle manager. You can practice the discipline of First Who: right people on, wrong people off, and right people in right seats. You can begin to cultivate the Stockdale Paradox: confront the brutal facts and retain faith. You can begin to say as well, “What’s the Hedgehog Concept for just our minibus? What could we potentially be the best at?”
You might say, “Well, how can a high school science department do that?” Well, his Hedgehog Concept was to make it the best in the world at teaching science to high school kids in the state of Colorado. Very simple, very localized, but still a Hedgehog Concept. Then, how could he build a little culture of discipline in this area and build that momentum and take it from buildup to breakthrough?
My big message, which I’ve really come to believe very deeply, is take responsibility to make great what you can make great, and let others do it in the areas that they can make great. If the whole company doesn’t do it, you can’t change that, but you can take responsibility for your area.