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The 4 Leadership Conversations You Should Be Having

Yesterday I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting with Dr. Peter Koestenbaum, my longtime mentor. Dr. Koestenbaum is the originator of the Leadership Diamond — a comprehensive leadership awareness program that serves as a foundation of well-established principles, practices and philosophies for executives, leaders and business people around the globe.

To give you an exclusive and exciting glimpse into the mind of this brilliant leadership pundit, I’d like to share some highlights from a series of email exchanges we had following our meeting.

On Succeeding…

“How to step up from mediocrity to greatness, from short-term myopia to long-term solutions is the ultimate challenge — it requires thoughtfulness, patience and a clear examination of the entire context that our decisions and actions rest in. The key is not to lose one’s nerve. That would be fatal.”

On Driving Strategy…

“We must always learn, always be fresh and alert, be willing to correct course, never stop revisiting — because strategy is not a thing that gets done and is finished, but a process that requires precise and wide-ranging continuous course corrections. We do not stop thinking of a strategy and then guessing that it will move forward on its own accord. It’s like a driver starting to drive a car and then abandoning it.”

On Collaborating…

“The response to look for here is not a debate with a winner and a loser, but rather questioning how we can clarify, simplify and elaborate in greater detail the message. And we do this together as a leadership team committed to judgment and maturity, rather than earlier, adolescent, states of action and reaction.”

On Involvement…

“The result of this new conversation is not to get a winner, but greater dialog and mutual clarity and transparency. Out of that process new system configurations can emerge; a central component is widening the circle of involvement, which means expansion of accountability. We end not with a winner and a loser, but with two winners, becoming one winner, that is, a partnership and a community.”  

Truth about values can never be ignored.

My exchange with Dr. Koestenbaum got the gears in my head spinning. The truth about paying attention to the values he lays out apply whether you’re referring to companies and organizations or the United States and the world. At every level, we continue to face critical defining challenges, decisions and actions that can make history or make us history. These are the times that define mature and ultimately successful leadership decisions — whether it’s related to the government or the board of directors. They are values that applied to Steve Jobs just as much as they do Winston Churchill…and every other great leader that preceded or followed them.

It’s not about making unilateral decisions. It’s about widening responsibility and accountability. It’s about eliminating discomfort of extended leadership called upon to participate in the conversation. It’s about weighing in on the decisions and actions we personally make and professionally take.

Thank you, once again, Dr. Koestenbaum for inspiring me and so many other business professionals. Lead on, Dr., lead on.

Steve Jobs’ Secret Addiction

Steve Jobs had an addiction. It was also his secret weapon. Jobs was addicted to relevance. His relentless focus on user experience, simplicity and elegant design were merely his passions. Making those passions relevant is what gave them real meaning.

To Be or Not to Be … Relevant

Why do certain companies and leaders succeed while others succumb? How can a business go from irrelevant to relevant? For that matter, how can companies and organizations avoid going from relevant to irrelevant? More importantly, why don’t more CEOs have a clue about what Steve Jobs knew regarding making relevance relevant?

Relevance has Always Been what Makes Apple, Apple

Steve Jobs — and Apple — have proved that being relevant delivers many perks. It puts you in a position to transcend businesses, technologies, customer relationships, cultures, society and the lives of people all over the world. Everyone wants his or her company, leaders and products to be relevant. Yet relevance remains excruciatingly elusive. Why? Because wanting it isn’t enough. Relevance needs to be created.

Being relevant starts with strategy. The main message driving Apple’s strategy is clear: Simple and Elegant. It became part of all conversations involving Apple’s design solutions. It carried over from conversations inside Apple to conversations with customers. Now, that conversation has gone global. That’s why Apple is one of the most relevant consumer brands today. Customers trust that Apple will meet their standards in anything they do. It’s the one thing about a constantly changing company that has never changed.

The Missing Business Link to Relevance

There are four considerations in business. Chances are you’re only focused on three: Growth, Scale and Productivity. The fourth is Relevance. Without Relevance, it’s impossible to create opportunities for Growth and Scale. The end result: You try to achieve Productivity by shrinking your company.

Too many companies aren’t even having the right conversations about Growth, Scale and Productivity. Instead, they’re having Chocolate Conversations — Conversations that are misinterpreted, misunderstood, and mismanaged. Before you know it, everyone inside and outside your company loses track of the story. Then, growth is stymied, scale is smothered, productivity is stifled and relevance is snuffed.

Seven Rules for Relevance Success

Rule #1: What you do must be relevant to your employees or it won’t be relevant to the customers they serve.

Jobs had an uncanny ability to foresee what new technologies people want even before they realized they had a need for it. His genius lies in leading a workforce that bought into, believed in and executed the same worldviews, standards and concerns.

Rule #2: Don’t get too comfortable with your current position.

You can dominate your market for years and still find yourself suddenly losing relevance. Businesses not focused on relevance start to hobble along and eventually fail. Jobs moved from computers to iPods, iPhones and iPads — and the spirit of innovation he inspired will live on long after his death.

Rule #3: Be unafraid to cannibalize your own niche markets.

Apple is constantly envisioning, developing and launching something new and exciting. There’s no better way to stay ahead of the curve on relevance.

Rule #4: Have less Chocolate Conversations.

Apple speaks directly internally and externally. Their message is so clear and relevant that their users aren’t even interested in hearing what Apple’s competition has to say.

Rule #5: Apply relevant thinking to more than just products.

You don’t even need to make a product to be relevant. YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn rank right up there in the ranks of relevance.

Rule #6: Instead of waiting for change, initiate it.

The record industry is a perfect example of a once huge business that never saw change coming. Napster saw it. So did Apple.

Rule #7: Relevance is something you should be addicted to.

Steve Jobs insisted that Apple stay relevant. Relevance is a widespread core mission at Apple. They believe it. They live it. They execute it.

How relevant are you and your company?

Please share some of your Rules for Relevance in the Comments section.

As Steve Jobs said, “If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow.“

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