The Nature of Your Jobs

The Nature of Your Jobs

For long time readers (that’s both of you) my aversion to Apple as an organisation and the near cult of Steve Jobs is well documented. However, I’m also pretty ‘whole of market’ about where I get my wisdom – because I think learning is so precious that you should try and grab it wherever you find it.

It would be ridiculous to say I didn’t like Apple so there are no lessons to be learned from that organisation or its history.

The other day I passed an ice cream stand that had a Steve Jobs (attributed) quote written on a board.

‘If you want to make everybody happy all the time then don’t become a leader… go sell ice creams’

I think at the heart of that is something really important. That helping people and organisations get better – and helping them achieve – isn’t the same as making people happy.

It certainly isn’t about making people unhappy (that’s toxic), but most of us have benefitted from tough but necessary lessons at some point in our careers. Most of us have recognised our luck in having people who are prepared to have the uncomfortable conversations with us which prompted us to reflect and grow. Once the conversation is over most of us were thankful that our manager/boss/colleague cared. Most of us – longer term – were happier.

I think it’s largely a false choice to ask people to pick between being respected and being liked. They aren’t mutually exclusive. But don’t ever lose sight of the fact that leaders get paid to do the stuff you respect them for, not to enhance their own popularity. My caveat to this is that once you accept you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs then it gives some people with a predilection for breaking eggs a nice excuse for poor behaviour. As with many things the truth lies somewhere in between.

If you are leading people then what they need and what they want aren’t always aligned. It’s your job to support those conversations to reconcile those things even if you are unpopular for a bit.

If you are leading people then their standards and those of the organisation might need to get a bit closer. It’s your job to step towards those conversations as quickly as possible for their benefit.

If you are leading people then sometimes the conversations with one person about their impact on the broader group fall may in your lap – it’s your job to handle them with grace and care.

If you don’t fancy that job or if you just want to be liked…

Well, you can always go and sell ice cream.

(please note if you work as a leader in the ice cream industry then you’ve got all angles covered. Kudos)

Leaders: Is that how you want to be seen?

I wrote some time ago about the fact that senior teams on organisations are people too. I was chatting to a group a few weeks ago about influencing organisational strategy and that sometimes the aspirational influencing techniques and the ROI figures from research won’t hit the spot. That’s because evidence helps – but people still make decisions based on emotional reactions.

I’ve seen perfectly reasonable business cases rejected because, despite compelling evidence, people just didn’t ‘believe in them’ and less compelling cases termed as ‘worth a punt’ or ‘feeling like what we should be doing’. Quite often it has depended on who is presenting and how it is presented.

The idea of the completely rational senior team is as implausible as that of the rational consumer in economics. They are a group of smart people with the same prejudices, biases and ego challenges as the rest of us. They care about how they are viewed, not just numbers.


Don’t plan around what should happen in those hallowed rooms, plan around what we know does happen.

So I think the following are valid influencing tactics

– Not doing this is inconsistent with the values that you/we keep talking about

– I’ve heard you talk about how you want to be seen as a leader who cares about x and I think that’s really important; and this would be a really good way to bring that to life for people.

– Not doing this undermines your personal credibility and ability to get other things done and I know how hard you have worked to change impressions of this team after the last x left

– What do you want your legacy to be? What type of company are you trying to create? I think this could be a key step to achieving that…

– Doing this will buy you the goodwill to do x or repair the damage caused by y

– It’s not commercially imperative but it sends a clear signal about how to approach other work/how much you as a team care about y

– I’m confident it might be award winning (Note: don’t use this too often unless you regularly land awards)

It’s not nice and fluffy, it may be slightly manipulative and it isn’t all you should rely on. It certainly wouldn’t work with all senior teams, but it should be in the toolkit.

Don’t be afraid to treat people as people – because there is opportunity to do better for people and organisations by knowing which buttons to push. A whole of market approach to influencing to get the right things done.