Talent Management: “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs” – the first 3 of 14


This post will elaborate on the provocative leadership thoughts and observations of Steve Jobs described by Walter Isaacson (author of Steve jobs biography) and relate them to talent management (TM). A major theme in this series of posts is the relationship between these principles (lessons) between TM and performance management (PM). PM for me is the process for leveraging the value of the talent you have access to by enabling excellence to materialize and be sustained.

Isaacson describes 14 leadership principles (article calls them lessons):

  1. Focus
  2. Simplify
  3. Take Responsibility End to End
  4. When Behind Leapfrog
  5. Put Products before Profit
  6. Don’t be a Slave to Focus Groups
  7. Bend Reality
  8. Impute
  9. Push for Perfection
  10. Tolerate only “A” Players
  11. Engage Face-to-Face
  12. Know Both the Big Picture and the Details
  13. Combine the Humanities with the Sciences
  14. Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

This post will focus on the first three principles.

First lets understand what I consider TM: Continuously meeting our timely access and use of talent needs in highly effective business driven ways.

There are three key touch points in this TM notion: access, use and effectiveness. The principles mainly speak to the use and effectiveness touch points.

Focus is about paying attention to the few things that matter. For Jobs this included focusing on a few product categories (e.g., consumer mobile, professional desktop, etc.). This list of the few evolves over time by carefully adding, retiring attention to previous priorities (including abandonment).

The insight is of course understanding that we can only do so much if excellence and success are what we aspire to.

The whole field of performance management as practiced by the arts, military, firefighting and sports is a living test amount to the wisdom of focus. Performance is about doing “something” and mainly about not doing a myriad of other options. Performance improvement is about getting better at “something” at a time.

Note a “get by approach to life” will not put a premium on the value of focus.

The link to TM is that of knowing how to maximize the value of what talent you have access to and how to augment it even further. We achieve this by being intentional on how we “use” or talent and being clear on what “effectiveness” means. Our organizational performance management systems should embed the principle of focus principle of focus.

The principle personal behavioural habit in someone who values focus is they say “NO” almost all the time at any given time (this last qualifier suggests that in the future, today’s NO may become a YES).

Simplify is understanding that the essence of what we strive to achieve is the heart of success. For me, essence includes a sense of elegance, aesthetics, and even beauty. Why these notion? Because I find we observe them when there is a sense of simplicity in place. This of course comes to the sense of design as that which “works” in a remarkably easy and effective manner.

The relationship between simplicity and complexity is captured for me by Einstein’s famous E=MC2 formula. Underneath there is incredible conceptual complexity. Yet this formula reflects an easy to grasp sense to the lay person what “it is all about”.

TM should lever use and effectiveness of its talent through ensuring that the talent can focus in a simple straight forward manner on what it is we want it to excel at achieving. Let me ask: “How many are in organizations where your critical talent is dissipated on meeting extraneous demands?” What do I mean by extraneous? Anything that deflects the talent from focusing on how we will ensure the custom has the right experience (outcome) from use of our products.

If I have one strong and harsh criticism with typical organizational PM systems is that they are not simple and they do not install appropriate focus. Operationally I would argue they often do not enable excellence either.

How should we begin to picture an effective PM system? The next principle assists us.

Take responsibility end-to-end is the PM heart and soul.

Let’s begin with two common leadership dilemmas: not being strategic enough and losing  the opportunity for meaningful feedback.

Next, let’s consider how we can measure success:

  1. Inputs – monitoring those things that we need to include if we are to succeed. These can include quality talent, organizational values, sound strategy, effective resource support, etc.
  2. Throughputs – monitoring those things that tell us if we are using our inputs efficiently and effectively. Obviously waste, distractions, rework, poor applicable teamwork, etc. are examples.
  3. Outputs/Results – monitoring that have we achieved our respective commitments to each other and our customers. Included is: being on time, within budget, meeting performance specifications, etc.
  4. Outcomes/Experiences – monitoring whether our best efforts end up making a “damn bit of difference anyway” to our customers. Are our customers lives improved by use of our products and services.

The four places we can measure success represent another way of considering the “end-to-end” principle. The strategic orientation focuses on the output and outcome areas while we might consider the input and throughput areas the focus of strategic execution.

Our leadership dilemmas are in my mind contrived dilemmas in that they only arise because of confusion about what is necessary to achieve performance excellence.

Being strategic means having a grasp of what it takes to successfully execute. Any plan that does not factor this in runs the likelihood of being wishful thinking. Monitoring how well we execute means we know whether we will achieve strategic success. I see this as the equivalence to active navigation in sailing and flying. It is useful (sic) to know whether you are on track.

So the dilemma of not being strategic enough is one of not understanding what it takes to lead a strategy anyway. We may not agree with Steve Job’s choices around being deeply involved with the details – but we can’t argue that it didn’t work for him and that he was still remarkably strategic at the same time.

The issue of feedback is also a contrived dilemma in that because we assumwere no longer can “trust as much” the quality of the verbal/written/face-to-face personal feedback when we are in senior leadership roles we become blind.

Those who cherish the truth will know how to use the four measurement areas above to offset the lack of quality personal feedback regarding are we succeeding. On the more interpersonal dimensions of performance, here again those who care will find ways to supplement what they are getting (coaching, 36o feedback, mentor, etc.). Those who don’t care will use the this difficulty as a good excuse for continuing on their merry way.

Every critical role needs specific forms of feedback from all four measurement levels or the “end-to-end” they are charged with.

PM is at the heart of leveraging TM. Having great talent that is poorly used is almost a crime (at the very least a “disrespectful waste”). I believe it was Peter Drucker who said that the purpose of leadership is to obtain extraordinary results from ordinary people. I am critical of any PM system that does not simply and directly strive for this outcome.

Our next post will look at the principles: “When behind, leapfrog”; “Put products before profits”; and , “Don’t be a slave to focus groups”.

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About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
This entry was posted in Creativity, Decison Making, Performance Management, Risk & Uncertainty, Strategy, Talent Manangement, Values and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Talent Management: “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs” – the first 3 of 14

  1. Pingback: 14 leadership principles By Steve Jobs « Ponomy |–> Everything is Learning

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