I’ve used the example of Apple computer and Steve Jobs in my talks to highlight the difference between leadership and accomplishment. Accomplishment is getting things done. Leadership means embedding the capacity for accomplishment in your team, even and especially when you are not there — when you are on vacation, when you have retired, when you have passed on. Leadership is about people as well as product. Leadership means that you have embedded your genius in the practices and people of the organization, and emancipated them from reliance upon your decision making.
While the test for accomplishment can be measured in quarterly results, the test for leadership is measured over quarter-century results. [Credit Verne Harnish’s book The Greatest Business Decisions of All Time.] So when Steve Jobs guided Apple to a market capitalization nearing $700 billion and representing 1% of the world’s total equity valuation, that is accomplishment, brilliant accomplishment to be sure. But it is too soon to call that leadership.
The shares of Apple are down $50 today and the stock has retreated from $700 to $450 based on profits flat at $13 billion. Of course Apple is not dead. They have a range of beautifully designed products and a fanatic base of customers. Still, it is useful to think about this case as a litmus test to differentiate leadership and accomplishment.
Leadership gets tested after the leader leaves. Do the organization and its people continue to thrive? Too often, when an organization’s performance drops after the departure of a big-personality leader, we bemoan the loss, and extol the leadership skills of the departed CEO. While I would say such a person accomplished great things, leadership would not be one of them unless the team can recover and continue to thrive.
At the end of the day, our legacy won’t be measured by reaching some quarterly sales goal, but by the great accomplishments of the people we leave behind. Even better, since leadership defined this way becomes a self-perpetuating leadership machine, our legacy lives on forever.
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