Meaningful leadership isn’t about teaching people what you think; it’s about teaching people how you think. It’s in this way leaders teach their teams to outlive them and outgrow them. In the absence of this kind of leadership, teams are shackled to a finite set of whims and charged with blindly implementing them day in and day out.
This Co.Design article about purported design dissension within Apple’s ranks made the rounds this week, and with good reason. It’s fascinating reading on a topic I’ve groused about before: skeuomorphism. Here’s the tl;dr summary:
Jobs was a big fan of skeuomorphism — designing software using analog metaphors. A former UI bigwig at Apple told Co.Design, “iCal’s leather-stitching was literally based on a texture in [Jobs’] Gulfstream jet.” Even though Steve is gone, Apple brass remains committed to the skeuomorphism approach in many instances, but some of the lower-level natives are beginning to get restless.
Here’s my concern as a user of Apple products (as well as how all this relates to leadership): as we approach the first anniversary of Steve’s death, we find that his preferences still guide Apple’s design decisions. This is a problem because in death Steve’s preferences are decidedly frozen in time. His tastes, opinions, and ideas can’t continue to grow and evolve and change with the times.
Eventually, Tim Cook and the rest of Apple’s senior leadership team will have some hard choices to make, and I think many of those choices will come down to one question: Do we respond to this year’s (and next year’s) problems in accordance with Steve’s preferences from last year, or do we try to respond to present and future problems in accordance with how we think Steve’s preferences would’ve evolved?
In other words, while Steve didn’t live long enough to let go of skeuomorphism, Apple will live long enough to let go of it, provided its leaders have the wisdom and courage to do so.
Meaningful leadership is education, apprenticeship, and empowerment. The other thing — the non-leadership thing — is really just indoctrination. Going forward, it won’t serve Apple well, and it won’t serve your organization well either.
Scott McClellan is the Editor of Echo Hub and the Director of Echo Conference. You can follow him on Twitter: @scottmcclellan.