People are supposed to never be irreplaceable. But what utter nonsense that is. The only people worth hiring are irreplaceable. Why would you hire anyone else?
Steve Jobs was irreplaceable. What was Apple’s board of directors supposed to do — put someone else in as CEO who was interchangeable with a dozen other Apple CEO wannabes?
More than any other executive in modern times, with the possible exceptions of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Jobs decided what the marketplace needed and provided it. If the marketplace didn’t know it needed it, more often than not it found out.
Tim Cook is, so far as I know, a fine CEO. From my limited knowledge, though, he suffers from not being irreplaceable.
It’s about the people.
There was, for example, the guy I worked with who was smart, talented, and had good business judgment besides.
He was also a clown. His colleagues enjoyed his jokes but ignored his opinions. Management thought of him as an irritant, worth keeping around, but not worth listening to, let alone promoting to a position of responsibility and opportunity.
One day I asked him when he was going to give himself a chance to succeed. “I’ve been asking myself the same thing,” he answered. I offered my help, which mostly consisted of putting him in charge of things he was better at than anyone else. His transformation was remarkable to his colleagues. Not to me.
There was the supervisor I worked with who never spoke to his team in a group setting. He simply froze when called on to speak in public.
We worked on this, on the grounds that as a leader he had to be able to do it.
Some months later he let me know that the night before his son had gone through a childhood milestone, during which he made a short speech to his entire extended family to mark the occasion. It wasn’t just a milestone for his son.
When I rank my best and most important accomplishments, nothing else comes close to these.
It’s about the people.
This column marks the end of twenty years of Keep the Joint Running and its predecessor, InfoWorld’s “IS Survival Guide.” When I started writing I set myself three goals for each column.
The first: Every column had to have something new to say. It didn’t have to be a brand new insight … nobody has 52 insights nobody else has ever thought of in a single year … but it had to at least provide a new or different perspective.
So originality came first. Second came entertainment, or at least the avoidance of dullness. I figured nobody would get to my new insights if they dozed off before they got there.
And third was usefulness: If those who read what I had to say found themselves mystified as to what they were supposed to do with my entertaining and novel insights, what would be the point?
Sure, I’m small enough to be competitive about what you read here. While it’s more than a little annoying to know that no idea is truly legitimate until Gartner or McKinsey makes it their own, there is a certain joy that comes with getting there first, even if the only people who know about it are you and me.
But more than anything else, Keep the Joint Running has turned out to be about people.
Over the past two decades I’ve made hundreds of friends I’ve never met. Some of you write to offer your own insights. Many are complementary to my own. Others, even better, are contrary to my own. These are as precious to me in my own way as the One Ring was to Smeagol, because really, how dull would the world be if everyone agreed with me, all the time?
And, I’ve been delighted to learn, many of you have been able to put some of the ideas you find here to practical use. Of all the correspondence I receive, “You helped me out,” are the emails I value most.
(Well, I have to be honest. I also value the ones that say, “We’d like you to help us out,” quite a lot, too. A consultant has to pay the bills, after all.)
Everyone who reads KJR has a leadership role to play, wherever you find yourself. You lead, you’ll recall, whenever someone else follows you.
Title and authority have nothing to do with it. It’s about deciding that right here, right now, you know what should get done and it’s up to you to persuade those who can do it.
That’s leadership at its finest. When you lead … whenever you lead … do me a favor. Never lose sight of the central fact of leadership:
It’s always about the people.
* * *
Twenty years is a very long time to come up with a new and interesting insight, once a week, every week. On the other hand, If I stopped writing Keep the Joint Running I’d lose a lot of my motivation to look for them … and I’d lose touch with so many friends I’ve never met, along with those I’ve yet to correspond with.
Next year will be a bit different: When nothing new and interesting has occurred to me, I’m going share something from the KJR archives instead. Not that many of you have been with me for the past twenty years, so I figure some of my golden oldies will be new to enough of you that my re-runs will be just as useful as when they were first published.
I’ll be taking my annual week off, so there won’t be a new KJR next Monday. Between now and the week after that I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season, whatever holidays you choose to celebrate, be they Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, the New Year, or, as one of my subscribers suggested more than a decade ago, Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday and the perihelion.
See you in 2016.