When Steve Jobs first resigned from Apple Computer some were shocked others were expecting the move. Steve had been battling cancer for several years and many suspected that the day would come when he’d have to step down. People close to him said that his driving force will be missed not only at Apple but felt around the world. Who will be the next great innovator? Tech visionary? These are all great questions. With Steve’s death the impact of his departure has been felt around the globe, however- Steve teaches us some great lessons in leadership.
The first blaring lesson is one of Succession.
Who will lead? Leaders of all companies large and small must ask this very important question. The leadership succession lesson runs from top down all the way through the organization. One company that I worked with in Chicago experienced problems when a large group of their older management team retired. No one was trained to take their positions. Lower, non-management employees were all promoted into management and a younger staff was hired to replace them. Immediately conflicts erupted due to poor or lack of management skills by the newly promoted group. This company is now burdened with high turnover due to poor planning by senior management. In another Fortune 100, Chicago based utility company- a major problem occurred when there were a number of underground vault fires due to wear of old parts. The only problem is all the workers that knew how to “fix” the problem had retired many years prior. When the ICC (Illinois Commerce Commission) stepped in they threatened to shut down the utility unless the problem could be addressed and assurance could be made that there would not be any other underground fires. In this case, succession plans were not in place to pass on knowledge and expertise from retiring workers.
At Apple, Shareholders, Board members and employees are worried. Sure Steve named his successor however the new man was head of operations and is not the creative visionary that Jobs played at both Apple and Pixar.
The second important lesson is Leadership Style
If you dig deeper there is another important leadership lesson that Steve Jobs teaches us. That lesson – though not so apparent is Jobs leadership style during his tenure with Apple. If you read about Steve you will discover that his leadership style changed from the two times he was with the company.
If you will recall Steve was head of Apple then was fired and years latter asked to return. It was in his second tenure that Apple really took off. According to reports the first Steve Jobs was a micro-manager. He oversaw each project with detailed scrutiny. Not trusting or allowing his employees to experiment or try to complete a project from their perspective. In an interview, Jobs said that people didn’t like working for him and he was fired partly because of his poor management skills. When asked, Jobs would have told you that the second time around he was more mature and learned to trust those that worked for him. He will also tell you that he was VERY careful in hiring the best. While projects still needed his final “ok” and stamp of approval. He was no longer hovering over his employee’s watching their every move. He allowed his team to develop and create his vision. Many will say this more mature Jobs was the driving force to the huge successes of the I-phone, and I-pad technologies. What few people know is that if project / product did not pass Jobs quality standards, he would scrape the product and send his team back to the drawing board.
What do these lessons teach managers and leaders today?
1. Learn how to hire right. Spend the time and learn behavior based hiring techniques so you put the right team in place. The old hiring questions no longer work. Managers and leaders must learn how to ask good questions that drive “right fit.” I’ll cover this more in-depth at a later date.
2 Learn how to delegate effectively. Clearly explain the task or vision at hand. Then hand-off the whole job not bits and pieces of the job. Allow the creativity and innovation of your employees to carry out your vision. Use milestones and check points so employees know how they are doing and if they are meeting your expectations. Use a delegation check list so all the important elements are covered in the delegation process.
3. Problem Solving. Learn how to help you employees brainstorm through problems so wise decisions can be made. Leaders need to ask more questions BEFORE giving advice or opinions.
4. Corporate Culture. Leaders need to create a corporate culture where there is NO fear to dump a project if it is not going right. All to often egos are involved and a project that should be scraped is not and more money and resources are thrown at the project, hoping that it will succeed- when it should have been dumped. Often direct reports are afraid to tell management that a project has serious flaws or problems and may not succeed. It is up to Leaders and Managers to create a culture for success, which includes honesty on project success without repercussions.