Posts Tagged ‘Steve Jobs’

The first leadership principle is to achieve professional competence. People willingly follow leaders they trust to bring them success. That’s right, leadership is about the ability to achieve results for others, not just for oneself. As humans, we are naturally attracted to people who are go-getters and can actually get things done.

In other words, the fundamental principle of leadership is to be competent. If you’re competent, people will aggregate around you simply because you have the ability and the skills to make things happen. If you’re successful on top of that, you can make them successful, and people like that even more. It’s a recipe for basic leadership effectiveness: be competent.

There are four types of competence: intellectual, physical, emotional, and interpersonal. However, the most important one is intellectual competence, which is the ability to size up a situation, make decisions and plans, communicate the vision and the plan, and control the execution. You can miss some of these, but intellectual competence as a leader can’t be faked.

Franklin Roosevelt had the intellectual firepower, even though he was in a wheelchair during most of his presidency. He was also a masterful communicator. Churchill and Lincoln both suffered terribly from emotional upheaval, depression and anxiety even, but they were also brilliant leaders who could communicate and rouse others to action.

Steve Jobs was, by all accounts, bizarre in his personal habits, extremely difficult to work for, and hard to get along with as a person, but boy, could he conceptualize technology and see the interactions between technique and art. People willingly followed him not because he was a nice guy or easy to work for, but for quite the contrary. He demanded only the best of everyone, and he got it, or else the person was gone.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

There was a period in the 1990s when militaries involved in operations in the Balkans and other war zones decided that the “strategic corporal” was a critical piece of the peacekeeping puzzle. It was born of the realization that even a corporal’s decisions could have a major – even strategic – impact on the mission.

Some people joked that the high-ranking equivalent to the strategic corporal was the “tactical general.” This was meant to reflect the fact that many senior officers in the military appeared to be micromanaging operations from headquarters.

Micromanagement is a bugbear in most organizations. People lower down in the hierarchy often feel that their every move is being analyzed and watched by senior executives. The general feeling is that the leadership doesn’t trust them. Those running the organization are often afraid to be perceived as micromanaging, and therefore fail to exercise control at the right time and place to gain the proper strategic effect.

Despite the bad reputation of micromanagement, I think it is often missing in organizations. Leaders –strategic, operational, or tactical – must be prepared to step in and manage certain aspects of the business in detail. This can occasionally require focusing on operational and tactical details for extended periods of time, simply because they are of critical importance and are strategic in impact.

Take the case of BP, which has always prided itself on its culture of risky operations. Its strategy is based on seeking out and exploiting the riskiest and most dangerous sources of oil on the planet. Starting in 2005 and 2006 senior management decreed the need for a new culture of safety and prudent risk management to replace the “cowboy” mentality that had prevailed for decades. Unfortunately, the problems continued, with the results that we’ve seen in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP would have needed a complete makeover in its culture in order to avoid the disaster at the Deepwater Horizon rig. While many changes were underway, there were still many aspects of the culture that showed a lack of concern for basic safety. When you read the accounts of what happened on the rig, one of the striking things is how reticent managers were to intervene and take action to remedy obvious safety violations and a general lack of “command presence” during the early events of the disaster.

Leaders set the general tone and direction for an organization, but they can’t just delegate and disappear. They have to constantly reinforce new approaches and policies, especially when they differ in a major way from previous practices and expectations. As a rule, the deeper the changes, the more the leadership must micromanage. They have to be at the forefront of the new expectations, inspect facilities, challenge people’s understanding, seek to remedy mistakes and anything that can possibly lead to the belief that things haven’t really changed or that they will get back to normal once the fuss is over.

Once a routine is set in and everyone is comfortable with the new expectations and culture, then the leaders can go back to being hands off, but during the change, they have to be involved in the details.

The same goes for beliefs and practices that touch the core of an organization’s culture. Steve Jobs is intimately involved in the development and launch of all of Apple’s new products and services. Why? Because avant-garde product design is what the company is all about.

In a company that is less product-focused or that has a completely different driving force, the CEO should focus on whatever is central to the organization’s mission and culture. For instance, BP is an oil company, so it’s driving force is resource based: finding resources, acquiring exploitation rights, extracting them, and distributing them. The CEO should focus his efforts and leadership on shaping the most important decisions and processes surrounding these needs, even to the point of micromanaging if the issue is critical or strategic.

The reality is that there is a delicate balance between being too strategic (aka aloof) and being too tactical (aka micromanaging). Leaders need to know when to be hands off and when to get their hands dirty. This requires prudent judgment, and bromides about the undesirability of micromanagement are useless in that regard.

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

Apple’s (and ATT’s) difficult introduction of the iPhone 4 should be seen by the company as warning signals. Instead, Jobs and company seem rather more interested in minimizing problems and taking their customers for granted. Case in point: When faced with reception problems with the new iPhone, Jobs tells people to “hold it different.” Really? That’s the best you can do?

I’m a big Apple fan. I have a Macbook Pro and an iPhone. However, I am seeing behavior that is classic in business. Success breeding arrogance. Maybe we should state it as a new law of nature. Meanwhile, Google is coming on strong with Android, on both phones and tablets, and other manufacturers are not giving up terrain so easily, such as RIM.

This is the perfect opportunity to move in on Apple’s turf. The technical know how and design can be created by others. The advantages that Apple has had are not forever. They have to keep moving forward and, especially, not take their admirers and customers for granted.

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with proper attribution.