5 Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Organization

Ask any person walking with a cell phone who Steve Jobs is and they’ll tell you.  They wait in line for hours to buy the next IPhone.  They hear smartphone and IPhone is the image that comes to mind.  Steve Jobs left the world with a product that is now a part of every day life.  

Most people are aware of his innovative approach to technology, business and how he made people better.  I find Steve Jobs to be one of those most influential, inspiring and innovative people in this generation.  I have listened to Steve Job’s Crazy Ones speech at least 500 times.  It gives me purpose.  It inspires me.  It opens possibilities that we are all better than we allow ourselves to be.  

As a leadership enthusiast, I want to point out some of my favorite quotes from Jobs that have inspired me to be a better leader.  We need to understand that Steve wasn’t just a brilliant innovator, but he was also a leader.  

“What leadership is is having a vision and being able to articulate that so that the people around you can understand it.” – Steve Jobs

If anyone is going to make that first step into leading, they MUST have vision.  Leaders must know where they’re taking their team.  Leading people implies we are going somewhere.  Leading implies we have a goal/objective to accomplish.  Leaders must create a vision to accomplish that goal.  Call it a plan, a path, an idea, but communicate it in such a way that your team can see what you see.  Communicate that vision clearly, concise and easy enough for their followers/team to understand. It’s one thing to know, it’s another to understand.  When we understand things, we get the full spectrum of what it is we’re about to do.  Thus, a leader must paint a vision so that their team can see it too.  

“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.” – Steve Jobs

Leaders invest in people.  That’s what they do naturally.  They make people better.  Steve Jobs nails it.  A leader’s job isn’t to be easy on people, it’s to make them better.  If we’re going to invest in people, let’s make it count for them.  A leader must be honest with their team.  If a team member needs a wake up call, hold them accountable to the values and standards that are set in place.  It’s a leader’s job to coach, mentor and guide their team members to not only be better, but do better and know better.  Don’t forget that a leader focuses on people.  They are in a way, our soul purpose for being a leader.  We don’t just want to make them better, but also want to make them leaders.  

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” – Steve Jobs

Leaders want to know that what they’re doing is working.  They want to know that their leadership is effective.  They want to know that their vision is being carried out and that progress is being made.  There is only one way to check how you and your team is doing and that’s by stopping to assess where the team is and how they have been performing.  You can’t look forward to see that, you must look behind you to see how far the team has gone.  Looking back provides an opportunity to grow from your experience, the failure, the perseverance, the challenges you’ve faced and so on. It’s important that we look back to connect the dots, but don’t forget that more dots need to be made.  Don’t focus too much on the past, but look to the future.  Leading is about where we’re going, but we must learn and progress from where we’ve been.  

“Be a yardstick of quality.  Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs

Think from the follower’s perspective.  Followers want amazing leaders leading them. Leaders must be that quality that followers are looking for.  I’ll say this in the nicest way, but followers don’t need a half-ass leader.  They need someone who is of the utmost quality.  The quality of the leaders depends on the follower’s development, progress and effectiveness.  Leaders will always have a high standards of excellence for their team and their work environment.  A leader cares about how things are done.  They expect high quality results.  They expect high quality performance.  As a follower, be selective on who you follow.  Who you follow is not only important for the objectives and goals, but also important for the followers.  A leader will raise the bar for the benefit of their followers. They see your potential and will ensure that you are growing to meet it. 

“Innovation distinguishes between and leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs 

This may be one of those most recognized quotes from Steve Jobs.  Some people have yet to understand the correlation between innovation and leadership, but it’s quite simple.  Innovation isn’t just an action, but being innovative is seeing outside the box.  Like innovators, leaders also see outside the box. Leadership and innovation are actions of a decision to not accept the normality of how people and products are grown. Leaders see around corners in ways that others don’t see.  They are strategic, they are creative, they are risk takers and they certainly don’t fear failure. It’s very important for leaders to see things in ways other people don’t.  A leader isn’t a leader because they have all the answers; a leader is a leader because if they don’t know an answer, they find or create their own solution to any challenge or issue. 

5 Ways to Help You Lead in a New Environment

Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Organization, Social, Tips, Tricks

It would be naive to think that one leadership or management strategy is going to work exactly the same from environment to environment.  It’s just not that easy.  Every organization, work center, company, and or course, the military will have different ways of operating.  After all, they all have different missions.

I am now working in my fifth work center in the last six years. I didn’t have a full spectrum of the mission or what I’d be doing.  I did have to put my learning cap on and embrace the change. A question that has come to mind lately is how do I lead in an environment that I am unfamiliar with?  After brainstorming with my mentor and close friend I have narrowed down some ways. Here are 5 ways to get your foot in the door into leading in a new environment.

Learn the mission!  You have to know what the overall mission is and you have to know your role in the mission.  Know your limits of responsibility and know your strengths and weaknesses given the new mission.  Everyone has a specific amount of responsibility over their area. Know where your role begins and ends. Ask yourself what you bring to the table? What are you good at and what do you need work at? You will need to self assess your strengths/weaknesses in this new environment. Play your strengths when you are able and learn when you are unfamiliar with the process or directions. Ask questions when you don’t know an answer or a process. It’s okay to ask other agencies how they fit in the mission. You need to see the big picture and not just the area around you. Knowing the mission and knowing your role will ultimately help move the mission forward.

Introductions! Aside from knowing the mission, you have to know the team you’re a part of. In order to work on a team you’ve got to know the team and the team has to know you. First impressions are very important, but we can never truly know someone by a simple greeting.  After personal introductions have been made, lay the foundation of your work ethic. Begin to show your work ethic. This is where people will truly get a sense of who you are. Lead with values, not authority.  Values provide a standard of positive behavior. Use them and add other values that instill a strong work ethic. Get to know how your team members operate. Seek what drives their performance.  Ask them questions about their passions, their family, their background.  Leading is ultimately about taking care of people.  One must know their teammates on a professional and personal level in order to be effective at taking care of them. After all, leadership is about taking care of people. Know your team!

Be proactive, not reactive!  Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do something.  Take initiative in your area.  Seek out and find what needs to be done or what could be done.  There is always someone who needs help.  Go ask them if you can help or if there is anything you can do to help.  If you know what needs to be done, do it.  If you don’t, then ask someone what you can do to contribute. This is why knowing the mission is important.  It will give you an idea on what needs to be done.  When you’re proactive you stay ahead of the game.  Doing so can often help save you and others time in the future. Being proactive means you’re prepared.  No one likes the feeling of being unprepared. Take initiative every chance you get!  It may lead to some great opportunities! Nothing is more satisfying to a supervisor than seeing a subordinate take charge.  This not only tells them you have a great work ethic, but that you are capable of leading. Be proactive!

Communicating clearly.  Communication is a very hard skill to master.  For someone to put thoughts or an idea into words, or better yet, action, it can be quite difficult if you don’t understand how each member of your team listens or learns.  To clearly get your objectives across to your team can be very delicate.   Make sure you take time to get the correct words down before you speak your objectives/tasks/ideas, etc. The precision of your communication can make or break the success of your team.  And always make sure that your team members know to ask questions if they don’t clearly understand the objective.  That is also another part of communication.  It’s a two way street.  Ensure you communicate clearly and ensure your team knows how to seek answers from you by asking. Listening and hearing are two different things.  Listening is an audible action, hearing what’s said is the process of information into a structured concept.  Communicate clearly so that your point is heard.

Be willing to learn!  A leader’s job isn’t to know all of the answers.  Leaders must show they are willing to learn from their team members.  Listening and learning from the members on the team builds trust.  When teams learn from each other it strengthens their ability to adapt to overcome challenges. It creates a teamwork environment.  When leaders and members of the team are open to learning from each other it also creates a culture of learning.  Learning is how we grow.  Show them that if you can, they can.  Learn together!

Why change matters!

Ideas, Innovation, Leadership, Organization

Every organization has a time when the people leading, the processes they manage and the products they create transform into something new, something different, something better and sometimes worse.

When I think of change, I think of the movie Without Limits.  It’s about Steven Prefontaine, the famous long distance runner who was tragically killed in a vehicle accident. He instilled such a strong belief, philosophy and approach to running that he refused to bow down to anyone’s advice, even his coach, Bill Bowerman, in the way he wanted to run.  Coach Bowerman tried immensely to teach Pre that his methods, although, effective, could be better if he would just change his strategy.   Pre insisted that there was no other way to run other than running flat out until he had nothing left.

Steve Prefontaine: I don’t want to win unless I know I’ve done my best, and the only way I know how to do that is to run out front, flat out until I have nothing left. Winning any other way is chicken-shit.

Though, Pre was extremely effective in his unchangeable belief in running, he also learned that hard work could still lose a race while a mediocre effort could win one.

Bill Bowerman: Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort can win a race and a magnificent effort can lose one.

Change is difficult to comprehend when the ways you’ve been doing things are working.  While some see no need for change, there are those that adapt to change and seek change very quickly.  In a work environment, no matter the career, these two types of people can clash and create an uneasy work environment.

So why the need for change?  Even when processes work in today’s culture we have to ask ourselves if they’re going to work in the future?   Are we willing to change to fit the culture we may evolve into?

Change scares us for many reasons.  We don’t like unfamiliar territory,  we like having control of what we know, we like stability and certainty.  That’s okay, it’s only natural that we feel these comforts.

Pre knew that his coach was right.  He knew that running with a better strategy would decrease his time, but winning wasn’t the only thing that mattered the most, it was ‘how’ he won that mattered.  Thus, Pre resisted change.

In the Air Force, every two years a squadron or base proceeds through a change of command. This means that a new Commander will take over as the current Commander moves on to another assignment. In this, many things happen. There is a time when things continue the way they are, but at one point a new set of eyes sees something that can be better. Thus, a new process begins and it’s like the first day of the school year again.  There are those that take it, some that resist it, some that wait and see and some that will try to avoid being a part of it.

There are a number of animals that deal with change too.  Some animals change their core temperature to fit in the environment’s climate. Some change color to blend in with their surroundings as a defense mechanism.  We, as humans, have a hard time adapting to the shifting direction of our environment.  Change is essential to adaptation.  It is also detrimental to not only surviving in our area, but also thriving in our environment. 

A football team is a prime example of how changing, “adapting,” can predict the outcome of any situation.  A football team must be able to change at a moment’s notice if the play they are trying to initiate is noticed by the opposing team.  The team may call an audible or they may play it out.  The defensive team, must do the same.  They will either play along with the play and each player do their part, but what if the offense calls a play change on the line.  The defensive team must adapt to the change and be ready for what is about to come.  They must change their defensive strategy!

This same concept is crucial to every organization.  Every organization must embrace change as a readiness tactic.  A readiness to remain in business.  If not a part of a readiness process, then it must be taken as an opportunity to make progress.

In golf, adaptability is key to winning.  Players must adapt wherever their ball may land.  The inability to adapt could be the difference between winning and losing.  Sometimes the case is just 1 stroke away, sometimes it’s a battle for a tie breaker and it may require tiny adjustments to win.  The winner of the 2015 Masters Champion(Jordan Spieth) won 1.8 million dollars, the 2 runners up(Rose/Mickelson) tied for 2nd and received $880K each and the 3rd place winner received $480K.  The difference in these winnings were very close and I’m sure there were many barely missed putts for birdie that could have put anyone in the lead at any time.  After each round, the players are usually questioned with how they performed.  Most will say they made adjustments in their swing or even changed their attitude.  Adapting to the situation definitely makes an impact.  A million dollar putt could be quite literal!

In all reality, change matters in all aspects of our culture, whether it’s sports, business, military, time management or even eating habits.  We must accept change as opportunities to make progress or in some cases not only survive, but thrive.  Businesses’ goals are not just to survive, but every business wants to thrive.  Adapting to compete with their competition, or adjusting to the supply and demand  need can really make or break a business.

Take change as opportunity.  Adapt as it requires.   Although, we’re not putting for a chance at a million dollars, we are all goal oriented for success .  Change doesn’t mean taking jumps in processes, but even adjusting with baby steps makes a difference.  Change matters! 

4 Leadership Lessons From A 4 Year Old Playing Angry Birds Stella

Ideas, Leadership, Organization

Millions of people have played the game. Millions of people continue to play the game. I’m not one of those people. I have nothing against games and I have nothing against people who play them. I just choose not to play them. I know there can be benefits of playing games and they are more than just entertainment. It’s up to the people to figure out what. Depending the game, they can be a very educational element.

My daughter, Holly plays it! Angry Birds! My 4 year old is savvier on how to play it than I. Is that a bad thing? Most people may think that allowing young children to play games such as this is killing the engagement they have with real books and real games. There may be some truth to that, but as a parent, I’d never let that happen. My daughter has tons of books and she loves it when we buy more. She even likes comics!! And as a geeky parent, it makes me happy.

She has the Angry Birds Stella version. It’s suited for females, but for all. This version is basically a post cursor to the Angry Birds series. Stella, the main character has a few other friends in the game and each one has a specific skill in knocking out those pesky pigs. I won’t go into too much of the game because this lesson isn’t completely about the game; it’s about what my daughter taught me while she was playing the game.


After traveling in a car for 3 hours, followed by a 2 hour flight, a 30 minute drive back home, and a quick trip to the book store to end the day, Holly grabbed her tablet and began playing Angry Birds Stella while I sat right next to her reading a book. Every few moments Holly would ask me to watch her play and I did. At one level she asked if I wanted to play. Even though, I don’t play the game, I know what the objective is. I shot the first bird, hit a few targets and then came to the point where I had to actually think how to knock out the rest. I shot my last bird, I failed! Holly said, “Let me show you how to do it.” Holly took a turn at the level again and she got past the point I couldn’t pass…and thus she reminded me of a few great lessons.

How did Holly show up her Daddy on this game? As the game has 5 bird characters each with a unique skill, we’ll call these 5 birds Holly’s team. Holly knew their skills and understood what each bird was capable of doing. She beat me, it, because she knew how to utilize the talent of her teammates. What I failed to do was utilize the right player. This level required the use of all team members, but at a specific time. Holly taught me that a leader must know the capabilities, skills, limits and understand what team member is best to complete the play. Collectively, the team can complete the goal, mission or task. Leaders know the limitations and capabilities of their team.


On another note, she taught me that before you play the game, you must know how to play the game. I didn’t really know how to play the game; I just knew the overall objective. In this, you had to know specifically the mission or goal at hand. As a leader, you must know what you’re about to tackle especially with a team with various skills and talents. Leaders know the mission!

Like I mentioned, I knew the idea of the game, but Holly knew strategy. I didn’t have a strategy; I just took an attempt at slingshoting birds to ‘try’ to beat it. She knew which characters to use at certain times and as a result, she didn’t run out of birds to complete the level. I used up every one of them and still failed the level. The more information you have the better chance you have at accomplishing tasks, goals and the mission. Leaders must know strategy and must have a plan in place.


Above all, at 4 years old, she taught me that even the people you’re leading can teach you a thing or two. It’s best to use any situation as a time to learn. Leaders learn from their followers, a lesson that I learned recently when a buddy of mine sent me, “If you’re not learning from your followers, you’re not leading.” It’s true. Leaders must trust that they do not know everything and that at times you may be the one who knows the least.

These lessons aren’t completely new to me or others, but the fact that a 4 year old could teach such lessons, it makes her Daddy proud, very proud. I challenge anyone to pay more attention to the younger generation, they’re teaching us things and they don’t even know it.


Thank you, Holly for teaching Daddy a few leadership lessons!!

TEDTalk Tuesday: You Don’t Need An App For That

Ideas, Innovation, Social, TEDTalks

While the rest of the world got hooked on, “There’s an app for that,” Africa has proved that you don’t need an app…but you at least need a cell phone.  Africa is taking SMS to a new level of usage and it’s quite innovative.  Listen and learn in this week’s TEDTalk Tuesday.

A TEDTalk–How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek

Ideas, Leadership, Social

I was fortunate enough to hear Simon Sinek in person a while back.  He really opened up my, I guess you could say passion to what I really enjoyed being a part of.  Leadership being one of them and Innovation the other.  In this talk, he speaks greatly about inspiring action.  If you haven’t heard this talk, I highly, highly recommend sitting and listening for 18 minutes. Take notes because you’re not going to want to forget anything he says.  This changed my whole perspective on leadership and I hope it inspires you to do the same.