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Leaders don't make excuses: Crossing the Rubicon of Product Leadership

This week some titillating stories were published about Apple's internal culture. Among the news: Apple has hired a pair of ivy-league biz profs to codify its internal processes, leadership, and management culture. The case studies will be used to promulgate Apple's culture as the company weans itself from its sometimes-tyranical but wildly successful master craftsman, Mr. Steve Jobs.

Steve JobsOne of the stories describes the "Rubicon" that is crossed at Apple when someone is made into a Vice President. At that time, Jobs sits them down and explains that excuses no longer matter.

According to reports of these knighting ceremonies, Jobs uses a parable to describe the difference between a VP and the underlings:

Jobs imagines his garbage regularly not being emptied in his office, and when he asks the janitor why, he gets an excuse: The locks have been changed, and the janitor doesn’t have a key. This is an acceptable excuse coming from someone who empties trash bins for a living. The janitor gets to explain why something went wrong. Senior people do not. “When you’re the janitor,” Jobs has repeatedly told incoming VPs, “reasons matter.” He continues: “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.” That “Rubicon,” he has said, “is crossed when you become a VP.

(Excerpt quoted from a MacStories report, accessed on May 11, 2011.)

The Rubicon

The Rubicon is, euphemistically, a point of no return, the point after which, reasons become irrelevant. Excuses cease to matter.

And so this week I have been pondering the question: For "Product Leaders" (meaning leaders in every department, and notably, product managers), do reasons matter? This question gets at the heart of the dilemma of many leaders without direct authority: We don't control the resources, so how can we be responsible for what they produce? We don't have hire/fire capability, we don't really own a budget, so how can we be accountable?

Those excuses, or that reasoning, makes sense at a certain level. And yet, the successful leaders I've seen cease to care about reasons and drive for results. They hold themselves accountable, and it shows.

These are the leaders that get promoted.

These are the Product Managers who will become CEO. Or get promoted.

Just listen to yourself

Have you crossed the Rubicon of Product Leadership? Do you talk about reasons or results? Next time you are talking with a boss or other superior, listen to yourself very closely. Are you making excuses? If you are, and are expecting to be promoted, I would take a long, hard look at your attitudes and behavior.

As a great mentor of mine once told me: "You can't be given the authority. You have to take it."

- Alan

PS: If you liked this article, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn: "Leaders don't make excuses. The Rubicon of Product Leadership http://bit.ly/ivkvYf #prodmgmt #leadership #apple"

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