Effective Leadership That You Won't Read About in Class
By Rob Kaiser, Kaplan DeVries Inc.
According to conventional wisdom, leadership is about influencing individuals to contribute to group goals. Although the preferred way for leaders to influence followers has changed with the times—command and control leadership during the predictable days of industry, a more engaging person-oriented approach for the softer and less certain knowledge economy—the core assumption remains that leaders contribute to the bottom line by cajoling, inspiring, and motivating followers.
The problem is that this view cannot explain the Apple paradox.
Nonetheless, under Jobs' leadership, Apple has become a highly profitable and deeply admired corporation. Jobs was brought back in to lead the company in 1997 when Apple's stock (AAPL) was trading about the same as a decade earlier, around $10 a share. Its opening price on April 25, 2009 was over $124, making Apple one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of Silicon Valley.
The resolution to the Apple paradox is that leadership concerns more than interpersonal influence. In addition to being interpersonally difficult, Jobs is also considered a brilliant engineer (his name is on over 100 patents), a true visionary (he has created both radical new products and new markets), deeply involved in the business (he weighs in on design, technology, portfolio, and customer decisions), and has recruited some of the best talent in the world (both at Pixar and with the current Apple leadership team). It appears that the best managers in the technology industry would rather play for a winning team than a happy team.
I don't think that Apple is a unique company or that high tech is a unique industry in this regard. Rather, I think that interpersonal influence is only part of the leadership story. Another part of the leadership story—perhaps the most important part when you get to the top—is about good judgment in terms of big-bet decisions like strategy (what are we going to do?), staffing (who is on the team?), and structure (how will we organize our efforts?). But you won't find this in consultant manuals or psychology textbooks.