Thought Leadership: Key Personalities and More Lessons

think apple

Last week, we’ve touched upon the notion of thought leadership and the seven lessons derived from Steve Jobs‘ performance at Apple, as outlined in his much publicized recent biography by Walter Isaacson, as well as Isaacson’s article in this month’s Harvard Business Review.

Thought leaders come in different personality packages. Some blend, others aren’t that clearly defined — yet, all are crucial to fostering innovation and generating success within a business.

In her recent article, “The Five Personalities of Innovators: Which One Are You?,” Brenna Sniderman, Senior Director of Research at Forbes Insights, outlined five major personalities based on the Forbes Insights survey of more than 1,200 European executives, summarized in the report, “Nurturing Europe’s Spirit of Enterprise: How Entrepreneurial Executives Mobilize Organizations to Innovate.” Forbes just introduced an online section devoted to thought leadership, backed up by research generated from its research division, Insights Practice.

Some of those key personalities, Sniderman points out, are “more entrepreneurial, and some more process-oriented — but all play a critical role in the process.” “To wit,” she says, “thinkers need doers to get things done, and idealists need number crunchers to tether them to reality.”

Let’s see if you can find yourself among these:

  • Movers and Shakers. With a strong personal drive, these are leaders […] who like being in the front, driving projects forward (and maybe promoting themselves in the process), but at the end of the day, they provide the push to get things done. On the flip side, they can be a bit arrogant, and impatient with teamwork.
  • Experimenters. Persistent and open to all new things, experimenters are perhaps the perfect combination for bringing a new idea through the various phases of development and execution. […] [T]hey’re that intense colleague who feels passionately about what they do and makes everyone else feel guilty for daydreaming during the meeting about what they plan on making for dinner that night.
  • Star Pupils. Do you remember those kids in grade school who sat up in the front, whose hands were the first in the air anytime the teacher asked a question? […] This is the segment of the executive population those kids grew into. They’re good at… well, they’re good at everything, really: developing their personal brand, seeking out and cultivating the right mentors, identifying colleagues’ best talents and putting them to their best use.
  • Controllers. Uncomfortable with risk, Controllers thrive on structure and shy away from more nebulous projects. […] As colleagues, they’re not exactly the team players and networkers; Controllers are more insular and like to focus on concrete, clear-cut objectives where they know exactly where they stand and can better control everything around them.
  • Hangers-On. Forget the less-than-flattering name; these executives exist to bring everyone back down to earth and tether them to reality. On a dinner plate, Hangers-On would be the spinach: few people’s favorite, but extremely important in rounding out the completeness of the meal.

It’s worth noting that the hierarchy and the interaction among these key personalities, as suggested by Sniderman, is complex:

Younger, more innovative firms generally need Movers and Shakers at the top, channeling the energy of Experimenters into a vision that can be implemented. As organizations grow larger and more established, however, they need Star Pupils who can translate that vision into a strategy and lead it forward, Controllers who can marshal the troops to execute it and Hangers-On who can rein it in.

The Motley Fool pinpoints seven more lessons from the king of the movers and the shakers, Steve Jobs (we’ve covered the first seven last week), based on Isaacson’s biography:

  • Impute. […] Apple goes to great lengths to focus on presentation and packaging more than most companies do. The company even has packaging designers whose sole position is to design the unboxing experience.
  • Push for perfection. […] Even though Jobs went to great lengths to make the guts of Apple’s products as inaccessible as possible to regular users, he still made sure the innards were designed to perfection.
  • Tolerate only ‘A’ players. […] Jobs believed it was his ‘job to be honest,’ and that included tearing down an employee who didn’t do something well enough.
  • Engage face-to-face. Jobs was a big proponent of random face-to-face encounters, even though technology inadvertently discourages that type of meeting through digital communication mediums such as email and messaging… [Jobs] structured Pixar’s headquarters around a central atrium — to promote chance encounters with colleagues in different departments.
  • Know both the big picture and the details. […] Most CEOs don’t focus on the types of things that Jobs would, such as how many steps it takes to get to various sections of Apple stores, or the specific color hue of a product.
  • Combine the humanities with the sciences. Isaacson frequently portrayed Jobs at the intersection of art and technology.
  • Stay hungry, stay foolish. […] Jobs’ personality was shaped by two major cultural movements: the hippie counterculture and the rise of Silicon Valley. He merged these ideas by always heeding his hippie roots while pursuing his business ambitions.

Forbes‘ Susan Adams mentions another book, out on April 26, about Jobs and his “leadership genius” — this one is by Ken Segall, an advertising creative director at Apple who has collaborated on such important campaigns as “Think Different.” Apparently, Segall also came up with the name “iMac,” which has led to the release of the series of Apple products with names starting with an “i.”

Segall’s leadership lessons are in the similar vein as Isaacson’s, but there are a few twists:

  • Simpler is always better. “One product, one box.”
  • Blunt communication works. “Though many people found Jobs’ communication style offensive, Segall insists there is great value in bluntness because it leaves no room for confusion, distraction or complexity.”
  • Good leaders can compartmentalize. “Jobs just compartmentalized the criticism and kept on moving toward his goal.”
  • Small groups work better. “There are no spectators in Apple meetings.”
  • Keep things minimal and move quickly. “At Apple, a small group sits around a table and makes a choice.”
  • Simple names are superior. “Apple does not hire outside naming experts, instead relying on a small internal team and a group of advertising consultants…”
  • Simplicity is human. “[…] Apple has communicated in a matter-of-fact, non-technical way for 30 years…”
  • Simplicity even works in retail. Then there are the Apple stores, which defy big box retailing trends and “focus on quality, uncluttered and inviting design and fantastic customer service.”

We’ll close with Sniderman’s quote that sums up the nature of the environment where innovation thrives in balance with good business sense, demonstrated so vividly by Jobs:

As we’ve seen time and again, unbridled innovation is a wonderful thing. But it’s what comes next that’s arguably more important. To get an innovative idea off the ground, it’s crucial to have a cast of characters who can keep that tension between risk-taking and reality at a healthy balance midway between the sky and the ground…

Image by Earl Wilkerson, used under its Creative Commons license.

About Tatyana Meshcheryakova

Tatyana has been a journalist and editor for more than 17 years, including stints at AOL and a number of trade and consumer publications in Philadelphia, covering digital technology and the publishing industry. In addition to editing hundreds of articles and blog posts each month, Tatyana is responsible for training new journalists and editors that join our team. Tatyana has a B.A. in Journalism from Temple University, and is fluent in Russian.

  

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