Steve Jobs had a simple theory of what makes great leaders

Steve Jobs’ leadership theory may sound a bit harsh.

Seth Wenig / Reuters

Steve Jobs had high expectations of himself. Jobs also expected a lot from others.

And he definitely expected a lot from people in leadership positions.

Here is a story from John Rossman’s book, Think Like Amazon, which was published in 2019:

Steve Jobs shared a brief story with employees when they were promoted to vice president of Apple. Jobs told them that if the trash in his office wasn’t emptied, he would of course ask the caretaker to explain. “Well, the lock on the door has been replaced,” the caretaker could legitimately answer. “And I didn’t get a key.”

The caretaker’s answer is quite understandable. It’s a plausible excuse. The caretaker cannot do his job without a key. As a janitor, he is allowed to make excuses.

“If you’re janitor, such reasons apply,” Jobs told his newly appointed vice president. “Somewhere between the caretaker and the CEO, however, reasons no longer matter“.

“In other words,” (Jobs continued), “once an employee becomes a vice president, he or she has to throw away all excuses for failure. A vice president is responsible for all mistakes and it doesn’t matter what he says ”.

Rossman calls this type of responsibility “control over the dependencies”: you take absolute responsibility for any possible dependency in your area of ​​responsibility.

The “no excuses” rule for leaders

You need more parts for an order, but the delivery from your dealer is late? It is your job to make sure that the agreements are clear. You should also have made arrangements for unforeseen events and resignations. The dealer may be to blame for the late delivery … but it is your responsibility to make sure that important parts are in stock.

On the flight to Tampa, where I’m giving a speech, I’m dressed casually. Right before I get on, the airline asks me to check in my hand luggage – and then does it land in Vegas? Of course, I could have packed spare clothes in my backpack and worn fancier clothes on the plane. The airline may be to blame for the loss of my luggage … but it is my responsibility to ensure that I have the clothes I need with me.

Ignatius is often credited with the following quote: “Pray as if God cares for everything; act as if everything depends on you ”.

The same goes for personal responsibility. Many people believe that success or failure is conditioned by external forces – and especially by other people. Those who are successful received help and support from other people … who were “for” them. Those who fail have been left in the lurch by other people, others have not believed in them and have not helped them … they were “against” them.

To some extent this is of course true. Nobody ever does anything significant on their own.

Even so, successful people never fully rely on others. Successful people set up contingencies. Successful people strive for the best and plan for the worst. You have clear expectations. They communicate – a lot. You check. They are mentors, guides and teachers. They lead and work through others, but they take complete responsibility.

Why? They know that all they can do is control themselves. Therefore, they act as if success or failure is entirely in their hands. If they succeed, then they alone are responsible for it. But if they fail, the reason is also theirs.

So don’t waste mental energy hoping – or worrying – that something will happen. Put all your strength into making these things happen. Be proactive.

You are responsible for every possible dependency – especially those that have the greatest impact on success.

As Jobs would say, “Reasons don’t matter anymore.”

Never look for excuses.

Never give reasons.

And never points a finger at others.

Unless you point that finger at yourself – and make a resolve to do whatever you can next time to make sure things go as planned.

This article was published by in October 2019. It has now been reviewed and updated.

7 characteristics that successful leaders have in common


Related Articles

Back to top button