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How Adversity Can Mold a Leader’s Ability to Deliver Value

Warren Bennis once wrote that many leaders he had met had been at one time in their lives been tested to their limits. Such experiences give the leader insight into self that is necessary to carry on. This came to mind as I read Randall Stross’s piece in The New York Times on Steve Jobs’ exit from Apple in 1985 and his subsequent experience with the computer startup, Next.

Eminent leadership authority Warren Bennis once wrote that many leaders he had met had at one time in their lives been tested to their limits. Such experiences mold character and give
the leader insight into self that is necessary to carry on.

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This insight came to mind as I read Randall Stross’s
perceptive piece in The New York Times on Steve Jobs’ exit from Apple in 1985
and his subsequent experience with the computer startup company, Next. The Next
computer featured elegant design and powerful aspirations, but Stross (who
wrote a book on Jobs’ sojourn at Next)
notes that it was underpowered and over
priced and never caught on in the market place. Working at Next was also
perilous; executive turnover was quite high. And the reputation of Jobs himself
lost some of its luster.

Next however was an excellent training ground for Jobs’
re-entry into Apple in 1997. The vision for excellence in design and
application still burned but as Stross points out Jobs learned how to manage
the creative talents of others, not simply his own.

Jobs’ experience holds lessons into today’s challenged
economy when many talented executives are out on the street, very often because
they were guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong
time, e.g. part of an organization that needed trimming to survive.

But you need not be shown the door to learn how to manage
more effectively now. Simply envisioning what it would be like to leave can
challenge you to think about what you would do differently now. Toward that end
here are three questions:

How am I adding value
to the organization?
Consider what you are doing now. Draw up a list of
your responsibilities and then compare them to a list of actions you have
taken. Do they match? For example, if you are a vice president for finance and
you are spending time with balancing the books you are not operating at your
level. Likewise if you are sales executive and you spend all of your time in
the office and no time with your people or your customers, it may be an issue.
Reconcile your actions with your role.

How am I encouraging
others to add value?
Leaders need to bring out the best in their teams.
What actions are you taking to delegate more responsibility to others? Are you
providing clear expectations and following up to see that people have the
resources they need to do their jobs? Looking down the road how are you
planning for others to assume your role or roles of other senior leaders? These
are big questions that all have an impact on value.

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What could I be doing
differently?
Tough question. The exercise above may provide insights into
how you are spending your time. Think on it. What else could you be doing? Also
what should you stop doing? Senior leaders need to disengage from tactics and
work strategically.

To answer these questions talk to a trusted colleague. He or
she may have valuable insights. Very often we are blind to what we could be
doing differently. That’s where a colleague’s perspective comes in handy.

You do not need to be thinking about leaving to ask yourself
these questions. They are valuable as a reflection exercise. If the questions
resonate, you can employ them periodically. Your answers may change year-to-year,
or position to position. The answers to such questions will keep you thinking
clearly and may help you avoid stale thinking.

Many successful executives never endure the personal humiliation
that so many executives feel after being asked to leave. But those who do, and
survive, often come back smarter and stronger, as well as more wise. They
learn, as Jobs did, that organizational success is not a one-person effort. It
takes the efforts of many people to launch a product, maintain a service, or
keep an operation humming. And in that effort a little humility, remembered
from the pain of loss, may turn out to be a positive.

John Baldoni is an
internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach,
author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s
top 25 leadership experts. John’s new book is
Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up
(Amacom 2009). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com

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