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Real Artists Ship

January 9, 2012

I finished reading the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson over the holidays (didn't everyone?). Although Jobs was founder and CEO of one of the largest and most successful corporations in the world, it's clear from this book that Jobs considered himself more of an artist than a leader of a large organization.

While some of his maxims are certainly indications of his artistic sensibilities ("Great Artists Steal," "Real Artists Sign Their Work," "Don't Compromise," "It's Better to be a Pirate than to Join the Navy"), there are others that I think speak to a broader interest in organizational leadership.

Two of these broader maxims are:

  • Real Artists Simplify
  • Real Artists Ship

"Real Artist Simplify" is similar to the KISS principle "Keep it Simple Stupid," which was first coined by an engineer at Lockheed Skunk Works when talking about the design of complex systems. He was echoing Albert Einstein who once said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler," and Leonardo da Vinci who said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." It's one of those mantras that is relevant across a wide variety of situations.

"Real Artists Ship" also has great potential as a memorable leadership principle.

Jack Welch included "talent to execute" or "very simply, get things done," as one of his five traits of leadership in a Business Week interview (December 19, 2005). (The others were positive energy, the ability to energize others, edge, and passion after the "givens" of integrity, intelligence and emotional maturity.)

I've heard American Express CEO Ken Chenault speak about the same thing when he talks about "ability to execute" being one of the most important ingredients for effective leaders. In fact, Ken talks about one's "EQ" (Execution Quotient) being just as important as one's IQ (Intelligence Quotient). At the end of the day, effective leaders produce results.

At American Express, our individual performance as leaders is judged on the basis of two primary criteria: what we did (Goals) and how we did it (Leadership). One can't be an effective leader in the organization without a vision of where you want yourself and your team to go, but one also has to possess the ability to execute on those goals in order to get the desired results accomplished.

As we say goodbye to 2011 and look forward to 2012, most of us will be setting goals for the new year – either in the form of personal resolutions or professional objectives. Execution against those resolutions and objectives will hold the key to determining whether those goals are met or not.

So, thanks, Steve, for your reminder that real leaders, like real artists, ship.

Any thoughts? Please share them here.


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