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Leadership Lessons From Steve Jobs

The February 27th issue of Time magazine contains an article entitled What Would Steve Do? by Rana Foroohar.  I am calling attention to this because of the lessons Ms. Foroobar extracts from Walter Isaacson‘s book on Steve Jobs, lessons I believe should be embodied in all coaching relationships between technologists and business managers because they will affect the way American business should run in the future.

What are these critical ideas?

  • Steve Jobs took full responsibility for his products from end-to-end and, most of all, “…he put products above return on investment and he wasn’t a slave to focus groups.”  How often today do we see product managers pass responsibility over the wall to someone else?
  • While Jobs could have gotten more out of his team had he not been so hard on them, he succeeded wildly because he also “… had a vision and relentless execution.”  How often do we find that corporate ideas rise through a hype cycle and then die as quickly because no one takes responsibility?
  • “The products, not the profit, were the motivation.”  My experience was that it was the annual bonus and performance reviews and not disrupting anything which were the motivators.
  • Taking the long view is another key lesson.  In order to do this, you need to invest for the long-term and maintain a strategy of investing during a downturn for the good of the business.  The last time I was part of a similar strategy was back in the 1980’s when New York retail banks were investing in anticipation of the elimination of rules banning interstate banking.  It was a great time to be a strategist.
  • Efficiency gains achieved through cost cutting need to be replaced by real growth that focuses “…more [on] product innovation and less on financial engineering.”  Often the first question a technologist will ask a business manager is: ‘What’s the cost center to charge this to?’  That will kill innovation — and the conversation — immediately.

While an unwitting victim of technology project accounting, the technologist should be fighting his/her organization for the freedom to think openly and creatively with their business counterpart to achieve an ongoing, fully engaged dialogue to dream about what can be, rather than incrementally inching towards imperceptible change and more of the same.