Born to Star (Part 7) – A Good Vision Master and Execution Master Pair

Right Execution Master - Startup Success

Born to Star (Part 7) – A Good Vision Master and Execution Master Pair

Would it be surprising that Steve Jobs did not miss the opportunity for a good Execution Master decision the second time around? Shortly after he rejoined Apple in 1997, Jobs found and hired Tim Cook.

Why did things turn out so differently between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook as they did between Jobs and John Sculley?

One reason is that Jobs himself had matured in the years after he left Apple (he left in 1985 and returned in 1997). As one Apple Board member recalled, Jobs in 1985 was uncontrollable, “He got ideas in his head and to hell with what anybody else wanted to do.” But timing was another reason.

In 1985, Apple was a young and growing company that needed to capture market share – sales – to survive and be a real player. By 1997, the company was an established player whose products were now losing ground to Microsoft. So in 1985 the company desperately needed an organized, sales oriented leader (like Sculley) more than it needed a creative zealot. But in 1997, it did need a creative zealot like Jobs.

Steve Jobs and Tim Cook

When Tim Cook joined Apple later in 1998 Jobs turned over management of its supply chain to Cook, who was, after all, an engineer. “I trusted him to know exactly what to do,” Jobs told Walter Isaacson, the author of Jobs’ official biography. ““He had the same vision I did,” Jobs continued, “and we could interact at a high strategic level and I could just forget about a lot of things unless he came and pinged me.”

In a nutshell, Jobs trusted Cook and that came from shared business values — unified vision between the two men of what Apple was out to do and why. In the next section of this book, we will begin to discuss why this kind of trust is so important between a Vision Master and Execution Master – and how to develop it.

Sculley and Jobs never forged that level of trust. They were, as we explored above, just too different in their values. Sculley was grounded in sales while Cook’s background was in engineering. That gave the two men a different perspective in framing a co-creative relationship with Jobs. As Cook recalled, “My intuition told me that joining Apple would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for a creative genius. Engineers are taught to make a decision analytically, but there are times when relying on gut or intuition is most indispensable.” In other words, though different, the two men respected each other.

One other difference between Sculley and Cook is also important to note. Cook learned early on that he had to express his disagreements with Jobs openly, or Jobs’ natural tendency would be to just steamroll ahead.

Cook could do this because he had learned something important about Jobs (characteristic of many Vision Masters) – Jobs would take contrary positions within a discussion in order to provoke more conversation that he felt could ultimately bring a better set of ideas and ultimately a better solution. Sculley’s nature was to be more quiet and statesman-like rather than confront Jobs openly in the moment. Jobs was able to trust Cook much more than he ever did Sculley, because Cook’s confrontational style suited him more.

The relationships between Jobs and Cook as contrasted to that between Jobs and Sculley paint a virtual masterpiece for you to examine when you go about finding the right Execution Master with whom to work. Can you now see why we began this entire conversation with the notion that you must develop strong self-awareness about your own style, values and mission, before you can find the right counterpart?

Sculley wasn’t a bad Execution Master – he was just the wrong man for Apple and Jobs at that time in his development – but that was critically important.

Remember, shared vision and values trumps talent. Don’t just bring on a team member or partner because he or she has the right skill sets or work preferences for the job. Shared vision and values, plus stable chemistry, trust and mutual respect, are far more important than the right skill sets.

A World-Class Pair — Translating Vision into Results

Sheryl Sandberg - Execution MasterAs the story goes, Mark Zuckerberg developed the initial software engine that eventually became Facebook because he wanted a better social life. In short, he wasn’t meeting any girls. Don’t laugh that off. For a college kid, that can be a significant driving Force! You’re probably somewhat familiar with the story of how Facebook grew and was funded by institutional money and then grew exponentially until it became one of the highest market cap companies in the world. What is often less known is how Zuckerberg found his perfect Execution Master.

By 2007, Facebook was growing fast and the 23-year old Zuckerberg knew he needed help. He felt ill-equipped to manage the business he had founded.

That December he went to a Christmas Party at the home of Dan Rosensweig, a Silicon Valley executive. As he approached the front door, he saw someone who had been mentioned to him as a possible partner, Google’s 38-year old Vice President of Global Online Sales, Sheryl Sandberg. Zuckerberg hadn’t called Sandberg to discuss coming to Facebook. After all, she was managing 4,000 employees for a billion-dollar company. Why would she leave all that to join Facebook, a company that wasn’t yet even making a profit? But, courage being the master of fate, he approached her, and as Zuckerberg later recalled, they talked for nearly an hour at the door.

As it turns out, Sandberg was ready for a new challenge. So for six weeks the two met for dinner once or twice a week at Sandberg’s home. Sandberg, an early-to-bed- early-to-rise type, often had to usher the night-owl Zuckerberg out the door at midnight. In other words, the two found one another’s company and conversation immensely satisfying. What they talked about late into those evenings were their values, their visions and their missions. “It was very philosophical,” Sandberg recalls.

Sheryl SandbergBy February of 2008 Zuckerberg had concluded that Sandberg was the right fit for him. For her part, Sandberg had lobbied, unsuccessfully, for a change of scenery at Google that would give her a new set of challenges to take on. Zuckerberg offered Sandberg the job of COO, recalling that “there are people who are excellent managers, people who can manage a big organization. And some people who are very analytic or focused on strategy. Those two types don’t usually tend to be in the same person. I would put myself more in the latter camp.” In other words, Zuckerberg had enough self-awareness to know his limitations and enough sense to find a counterpart who embodied what he didn’t.

Sandberg began work at Facebook in March of 2008, asking questions and listening. “She

walked up to hundreds of people’s desk and interrupted them and said ‘I’m Sheryl Sandberg,’ recalls Chris Cox, Vice President of Products at Facebook. “It was this overt gesture, like, ‘OK, let your guard down. I’m not going to hole up with Mark; I’m going to try and have a relationship with you guys.’”

She set up twice-per-week meetings with Zuckerberg, and they worked on translating his vision into both bottom-line results and a healthy corporate culture. She worked to build trust, mediating Zuckerberg’s intimidating style with the staff.

For Zuckerberg, Sandberg handles the things he doesn’t want to do and he trusts her to handle them well because he recognizes that she is a lot better than he is at those things. As with Jobs and Cook, Sandberg’s style is confrontational enough that it breeds respect from the equally confrontational Zuckerberg. This can lead to exponential results.

Hopefully, these success stories (and the one failure story) will convince you that: An Execution Master is absolutely needed for success in an innovative venture; As Vision Master, developing your self-awareness and knowing your limitations is important before looking for the right Execution Master.

For success with an Execution Master, you must have shared vision and values along with complementary leaderships styles and work preferences; and, mutual respect and trust are essential to making such a relationship work.

The final ingredient is a structure of trust and we will turn to that very important thing next. First, let me share with you one last example of how finding the right Execution Master can supercharge your company.

The Joys of Letting Go

One of my colleagues founded and ran a business consulting firm in the nonprofit sector for eight years before stepping down less than a year ago. An iconic leader within her industry, she struggled to be both Vision Master and Execution Master. Every decision, large and small, had to come from her desk, causing inefficiency, waste of resources, team burnout and sluggish or flat growth. The company provided quality services but tended to be slow to pivot to meet new market realities.

About two years ago the company put its first professional and independent Board in place. Six months later my colleague stepped out of the role of Execution Master with a new job title of Chief Visionary Officer and a reduced role in day to day affairs. In the two quarters since the change was made the company doubled, then tripled its previous quarterly sales. Perhaps more importantly, it began to produce major results for its clients, with a revamped service program. Most importantly, the former Vice President (who is also her son) that stepped into the CEO position and Execution Master Role, blossomed almost overnight into an effective leader.

It took a deep level of trust for my colleague to let go of the rein of a business she had founded that was grounded in values that she had stood for over a 30-year career. The process was undertaken with deep and ongoing support from the Board, with regular oversight and with an “interim” label pending overall results after two quarters. Today, my colleague is happier and healthier than I’ve seen her in years. She is enjoying her visionary role immensely and is no longer plagued by the impossible task of being both Vision and Execution Master of her company.

Trust was the key to this transition. Trust between my colleague and her newly elected Board; trust between my colleague and her newly appointed CEO; and trust between the new CEO and the Board, investors, and core team.

Did you know that trust is a structure, not just an attitude? In a coming eBook, I will explore how to build the requisite level of trust you will need before you can hand over your baby to an Execution Master. Stay tuned.

Key Take-away: Get yourself an Execution Master, who knows how to run a business as early as possible as COO, President or CEO. The title doesn’t matter (as Sheryl Sandberg shows as COO under CEO Mark Zuckerberg.) Don’t wait until your company is in trouble and the investors force you out. Don’t let the need for glamor, position, power, or any other form of “ego” keep you from doing this.

Final – Part 8:  Epilogue: Is an Execution Master Your Secret Weapon

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Robert Steven Kramarz

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