Thursday Thoughts: Crises and the Practice of Leadership

“People with passion find a way to get things done and to make things happen, in spite of the obstacles and challenges that get in the way.”                                                                                                                   -Steve Jobs

After you spend some time leading a company or team, you inevitably encounter a crisis. How you deal with that crisis as a leader ends up mattering more than the crisis itself.

On June 24, the consumer technology industry’s darling, Apple Inc., found itself wrapped up in a publicity nightmare. Many of the consumers who’d bought the latest iPhone 4 were reporting reception issues, and evidence showed that a defective antennae was causing dropped calls and poor connections when held a certain way.

The issues were more than a big deal partly because of all the fanfare leading up to the iPhone 4 release. When the long-anticipated iPhone 4 was announced in early June, Apple said it was the biggest leap they had taken with the product since the original iPhone shipped three years ago. The company sold more than 3 million iPhone 4s in the first 22 days on the market.

The negative press regarding the defective antennae continued to pile on, causing Apple CEO Steve Jobs to abruptly end his Hawaii vacation to address the issue in a rush press conference.

Apple handled some things inadequately during this calamity, but eventually ended up doing the right thing. Here are five leadership qualities Steve Jobs used to get through this crisis that we can all learn from:

  • Strive to educate. In his press conference, Jobs focused more on the larger issues of the smartphones rather than the signal deprivation. He wanted to combine his learning with action and impel the public to seek greater understanding of the product.
  • Maintain constant communication. As this whole debacle transpired, Jobs’ main goal was to show that communication is the real work of leadership.
  • Become a problem solver. Apple did not choose to simply forget about this issue and not deal with it. Instead, company officials dealt with the situation head on and extended support to their customers.
  • Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability. Jobs began his press conference by admitting the company is not perfect. In doing this and explaining that Apple does have faults, he showed he was strong enough to care.
  • An apology is a powerful way to make things better. At one point, Jobs offered a pure apology. His forgiveness does not change the past, but it will enlarge the future.

The clear lesson here is that it is only in the practice of leadership that we influence our world. Rather than view the iPhone 4 problems as a setback, Jobs saw it as a healthy, inevitable part of becoming a successful company.

As American football coach Lou Holtz once said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Steve Jobs exemplified just that. Without his passion and leadership to get through the crisis, the public would not have believed in his ability to resolve the iPhone 4 antennae situation.

As you think about your career and obstacles you face, remember that Steve Jobs believes, “Passion rules! Passion is about our emotional energy and a love for what we do. Without passion it becomes difficult to fight back in the face of obstacles and difficulties.”

The next time you face a crisis, let your passion kick in and guide your leadership decisions.