I just finished the fantastic biography of Steve Jobs and have spent the past few days thinking about what I’d read (it’s a mark of a powerful work when I go back to it again and again.) According to Walter Isaacson, the writer Jobs himself asked to write his story to make sure someone got it right, Jobs helped change the way we consume entertainment, do our work, and connect with the big screen. He was also brilliant, petulant, controlling, gifted, narcissistic, disloyal, flattering, mean, brutally honest and/or dishonest depending on his needs. All the while, perhaps his greatest strength was his ability to focus.
From his early days at Apple, Jobs brought his passion for design to the “intersection of humanities and technology.” This vision about how we could integrate form and function into our daily lives stayed with him for decades; it drove him to focus on key products with simple interfaces and a few robust functions. Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, claimed that Jobs’ ability to focus on a few key priorities meant he had to say no to many things, a skill few of us are good at.
Here at Luck Companies, we have the same challenge. What are the few things we will say yes to? What are the many things we will say no to? Our associates consistently give us the same feedback: pick a path and stick to it. Let’s do a few things exceptionally well as opposed to many things halfway. The problem is that there are many things we must respond to, and the markets we do business in are complex; our organization is complex in response. (Simple answers are often an illusion—we crave simplicity and certainty, but our world is anything but.)
In some ways this can be an excuse; our main challenge is our ability to self manage, to stay disciplined and stick to the goals we have set for ourselves. Self-management is one of the keys to Values Based Leadership; we have to fight our own version of squirrel disease (Hey look, a squirrel! Let’s chase it!) and spend a lot of time focusing on shared outcomes. Getting aligned and staying aligned around a few strategic priorities can easily consume a leader’s time. But if a leader’s job is to see the future and take people there, it may be one of the best uses of one’s time in the long run. Leading around a shared vision is never “one and done.” It is made up of conversation, after conversation, after conversation, along with tough, character-testing decisions.
Jobs could see the future, and was relentless about taking Apple there. When he returned to the company after being ousted years before, he had to reduce their product lines, halt projects, and focus. Nearly every product launch, staff meeting, and interview Job’s granted aligned with his vision of humanities, technology, and design. He perpetually influenced around his vision and made choices that supported that vision at every turn. Despite his faults, Job’s focus took Apple from a company hemorrhaging cash to the most valuable company in the U.S.
Here at Luck, we are not trying to become the world’s most valuable company, but we are trying to ignite potential wherever we find it, in individuals and organizations. Whether we are successful or not will depend on our ability to focus, to lead around a shared vision, to influence, and to make decisions that align with our goal again and again and again.