Apple, dot-communism

Leadership vs. Management, or what Steve Jobs, Marines, and Navy SEALs have in common

The end of the Steve Jobs era at Apple has a lot of people disssecting what made him the successful CEO he was.   You can analyze his own words for his management style (which is certainly helpful in some ways). Yet some management experts have said there’s no value in emulating his management style, because while he is undoubtedly a creative genius, his approach is one that could only really work for him, and some other loads of bullshit about governance and all that.

They are right.  And here’s why: chump CEOs manage, and winner CEOs lead.  Don’t get me wrong–an organization needs good management. But the best management in the world will leave you managing your way to oblivion without leadership.  That’s why the most exciting places I’ve worked–and the most successful, in the long term–were run by people who were laser-focused on mission, and on making everyone in the organization understand what that mission was and how they were part of it.  And they inspired people within the organization to leadership as well, taking ownership of the mission and initiative to make it succeed.   On the other hand, organizations focused on standardizing process and on managing the details may have been well-run, but they usually were running well in every direction but the one they needed to go in.

The early Steve Jobs, the one who was run out of Apple, was insanely involved in the management of his company, perhaps to an unhealthy level.  He was a horrible manager, in short.  I think he’d at least admit that he wasn’t a great manager.  But he was a visionary and a leader, and when Apple lost that and replaced it with good management, Apple became less and less relevant.  When he came back from the wilderness, he had learned something, I think, about the difference between being hyper-focused on detail as a leader, and hyper-focused on detail as a manager; he, as he has said, had learned at Pixar to ease off a bit on the mechanics and focus on culture and vision.

Steve Jobs’ management style, then, is less important than his leadership.  He embodied his company. He set the mission. He kept the focus on the mission.  He got the huge organization at Apple all pulling in the same direction based on his personal will to succeed, and his demanding standards.  There was nothing in that has anything to do with Maslow or Deming or TQM or Six Sigma.

I learned a lot about management as a Navy officer. While I was in Navy ROTC, the guys who were on the Marine track would make fun of the Navy’s focus on management versus the Marine Corps’ emphasis on leadership and mission.  Some of it was true, just because of the nature of what the two sister services did (and do).  Some of it was BS–the Navy had its great leaders too, and the Marine Corps had its share of manage-a-holics who couldn’t lead rainwater down a stormdrain. But the key difference was in the way the two services built their culture–because of the Marine Corps’ small size, it didn’t have the luxury of creating an industrial caste system. Every Marine started off the same way–by becoming a rifleman.  In other words, there was cultural focus on mission. The Navy SEALs have a similar mission focus because of the nature of their jobs.

Leadership and management are not mutually exclusive, but  it’s almost impossible for anyone sane to contain in their mind simultaneously the tactical and strategic vision required to keep everyone focused on mission while at the same time making sure all the paperwork is done. That doesn’t mean that one person can’t do both of those things–it just means they can’t do them at the same exact time.  And splitting focus from leadership, or from management, to attend to the other makes both much less effective.  That’s why the best leaders find good managers as partners.  That’s why Steve Jobs needed Tim Cook.  And hopefully, now that he has risen to the top spot, Tim Cook will find someone just as capable as a manager as he was to take over that executive officer role–COO–and let him become focused on extending the mission vision Steve Jobs laid out.



2 thoughts on “Leadership vs. Management, or what Steve Jobs, Marines, and Navy SEALs have in common

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