Thinking about leadership

In a recent conversation about whether politicians’ private lives are relevant to their public office, I was playing my usual devil’s advocate role, and asking if Bill’s penchant for interns really affected his ability to run the free world.  At this point, Dave Duarte did his usual thing, and brought the argument to a compelling end by pointing out that leadership and ethics are not about delivery, but about inspiration.  He pointed out that under Mandela, we all wanted to be better South Africans, while in other circumstances, with other leaders, we see less reason to ask more of ourselves.

This may seem like a pretty obvious observation, but it shifted something in my understanding of leadership.  I’ve always understood that truly great leaders do more than just their jobs.  But I’d never considered how important good leadership is to our collective social consciousness. However subtle, the cues our leaders give us become benchmarks of a sort.  A view to what we could be.  There is a ripple effect of repercussion in that idea that is in equal parts thrilling and depressing.

This, I believe, is why the whole world is currently mourning a CEO.  Because Steve Jobs did what truly great leaders do.  Only passing reference is made to the bagillions Apple earned under his tenure.  But practically every eulogy, blog post and social media stream is filled with stories of how he inspired people.

And so to me it’s no surprise that Apple and Tim Cook have been under scrutiny since Jobs stepped down from his leadership.  Because the kind of leadership Steve brought to the company is rare.  And while I think Apple will easily ride on the equity of its past success, we all feel that something has been lost now in Steve’s passing.  Something intangible and almost impossible to replicate.  And that will have repercussions for the business long into its future.

And in the meantime, I’m thinking a lot about who I turn to for leadership in my own life and what that is really saying about who I want to be.

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