This is the first of a series based upon the article The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
Steve Jobs is one of the most intriguing and controversial leaders of our time. His name comes up frequently in classes I teach – sometimes in reference to his almost prophetic ability to revolutionize industry and many times as an example of a tough boss. To many, defining Jobs after his death is the critical argument. To me, who is the real Steve Jobs is less interesting than the leadership lessons Isaacson gleaned from his interactions with Jobs. We can all learn from these lessons and begin to apply them to our own work. Over the next several months I hope to tackle all 14 in thinking about how they can apply to all leaders and especially non-profit work.
Don’t Be a Slave to Focus Groups
“Caring deeply about what customers want is much different from continually asking them what they want; it requires intuition and instinct about desires that have not yet formed.”
I am a huge proponent of research and data gathering. Everything in an organization should be measured. Yet data is a tool with which to make great decisions. The human brain has an incredible capacity to sort and analyze data. After taking in a myriad of data points, we can decide on a course of action. As Jonah Lehrer points out in his book, How We Decide, it is not our rational side that is the decider, but rather the emotional side. That’s where instinct and intuition come to play.
What does this mean for our organizations? Many times we try to rule by committee. Somehow we believe that in the service sector different rules apply. No one should “be in charge” and the decisions should reflect the “community view.” This is a recipe for organizations that move at the pace of molasses and are constantly behind – not in an I’m not out in front of the pack way, but in a why are you still doing it that way way. Most people cannot articulate the “desires they have not yet formed.” And non-profit organizations are notoriously slow at change. This is okay and has many benefits, but it means that knowing where you need to go has to be done EARLIER than other, more nimble organizations, not later.
Some leaders can see things coming – they feel the desires still unformed. It is those visionary leaders we need to be listening to. Let them take in the data points and tell us where they are headed. It is similar to chess masters. We could all plod along making isolated moves on a chess board. Some of us can even think three steps ahead. But Masters see the whole picture play out in front of them. They instinctively know (after much data and practice) what will happen twenty moves from now. Talented visionaries have that ability – to see farther into the future than the rest of us.
I am not minimizing committee involvement or the community representation in organizations – these are vital functions that make up all the data points from which to make decisions. But at the end of the day, good decisions are made from a lonely place—that of the leader.