BLG Leadership Insights

The Next Best Thing: Steve Jobs’ Leadership Misstep

A few weeks back on my way to work at around 8:30 in the morning, I walked by three or four AT&T stores with long lines filled with eager souls waiting for the doors to open. Each one of these bright eyed and bushy tailed, hope-filled, patrons of tech had their heads buried in an iPhone 3 (or god forbid an original iPhone!). I am assuming once the imaginary gates of heaven opened the teaming masses were going to race in and pay a pretty penny to own a piece of the future. As we now know, those brilliant new iPhone 4s were in fact not so perfect and not so functional. Anyone with a lick of tech sense will tell you to skip the 1.0 of something and wait for at least the 1.1, but still humanity needs the latest to feel complete.

When it comes to leadership, we tend to do the same thing. We know better, but we just can’t help ourselves. Leadership is actually less mystical then we try to make it out to be. Each week a brilliant, earth-shattering book comes out touting a never-thought-of way to lead your company/team/family/dog to new heights. It’s a catch and release world: they keep bating the hook, reeling us in, throwing us back and doing it all again. But leadership actually comes down to a pretty straightforward concept: what’s best for your workers is best for the company. It’s not a new concept, but it is one that is constantly forgotten and forsaken.

As an example of this kind of lapse in judgment, let revisit the aforementioned iPhone 4 mess. For years Apple made their money and good name by giving the customer what they wanted and making it fun, exciting, and down right beautiful. If an idea didn’t work, they junked it or they doubled their effort to make sure it did. But when problems arose this time, Steve Jobs and his army of supposed geniuses forgot their own golden rule. It wasn’t their fault, it was yours. Not getting a strong enough signal? Dropping calls to grandma left and right? Then it must be your fault for holding their brilliant and perfect product the wrong way. This level of arrogance builds up when those in charge forget that those they lead, or in this case those they sell to, are just as or more important then they are. Yes, Apple has rebounded and seen the error of their ways. But it’s going to cost them a reported $175 million in “bumpers” and a ton of terrible press.

So we can take two important lessons from this debacle:

1. To become a great or even halfway decent leader, you don’t need the latest greatest idea, theory, concept or piece of equipment. Just get yourself some common sense (not available in stores) and remember that what’s good those you lead will always end up being good for you, your company and your future.

2. Waiting on line for two days for stuff should be limited to Star Wars movies and rock concerts. And even then it still kind of seems a little sad and like a giant waste of time.

Picture Credit: Kyz

BLG Leadership Insights

Leadership and Influence: Leadership Means Getting Them On Your Side

Ed Whitacre will become GM’s new CEO after 17 years at AT&T. Mr. Whitacre’s experience at AT&T, another company regulated by the government, will prove invaluable since GM will now be in the care of Washington. Mr. Whitacre is honest and says he doesn’t know about cars but he promises to learn and turn GM around. For Mr. Whitacre to become a successful leader he will need to change and influence GM’s debilitating corporate culture.

Ask any leader today what leadership means and you will likely get a speech about varied responsibilities that’s dressed up with business platitudes. The truth is: leadership is the act of getting people on your side and influencing people in order to achieve goals, whether they are winning over customers or increasing productivity. It’s not about attracting attention and respect using charisma and power ties–it’s about getting the results you want.

Last week we talked about GM’s management and their corporate culture’s stagnation and routine failure. Ed Whitacre needs to change GM’s deleterious corporate culture right away. It would seem like the natural thing to do but there are many new leaders who don’t think it’s their job to shift rooted corporate habits. Instead, new leaders will spend the bulk of their time searching for the best products, or getting the biggest clients while they fail to realize that the success of their sweeping goals depends on the behavior of the entire organization.  A good leader will spend the bulk of his or her time influencing the behavior of her subordinates so they can collectively push through an agenda. Not to put too fine a point on it, but an organization’s fortune will depend on the attitude of it’s employees and it’s a leaders job to make sure everyone has the right attitude.

Oftentimes leaders will ask their upper management to change corporate policy for them but it won’t work since upper management lacks proven legitimacy and the power to effect long-term behavioral change. Instead, leaders need to spend the majority of their time ensuring that people get behind their projects and that corporate behavior is productive and not wasted. Driving change and getting results (no matter what they are) are the sole objectives of a leader–time spent chasing other objectives is wasted and is likely someone else’s job.

Talking about change is not the same thing as actually influencing change. A power-point presentation and a well-defined mission statement won’t influence anyone–it requires more work and care. It might seem obvious but leaders need to understand that there is no quick way to influence people. It takes a rational survey of the political terrain, the ability to create a coalition, and the strength to make things happen. We will talk more about influencing people and getting them on your side in this blog later on.

Ed Whitacre is a professional leader who knows his way around organizations so let’s hope he will focus on influencing GM’s management so they can sell cars, be innovative, and reshape their policy environment so it drives business and placates Washington.