For children in the 1940s, FDR was always president and the Yankees always won the World Series. (Well, six times, at any rate, during FDR’s presidency.) And so it has been with Steve Jobs. He and Apple seem inseparable, one unimaginable without the other. But Apple will survive and flourish so long as brilliant people make elegant, cutting-edge technological gadgets that people want.
It is nevertheless striking the degree to which Jobs is revered, and his retirement is met with a mix of sadness and shock. The era of heroic CEOs (e.g. Jack Welch) has passed, save for one who was a household name for millions who never read the business pages or watched CNBC.
It’s hard not to see the acute contrast with a CEO of sorts who is failing and increasingly unpopular. “The One” is now the one under fire from the right, left and many in between. It is not simply that people don’t like President Obama’s policies; even those who rooted for his success reveal something approaching contempt for him.
Mort Zuckerman expresses that sentiment in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:
It is no surprise that many have begun to doubt the president’s leadership qualities. J.P. Morgan calls it the “competency crisis.” The president is not seen fighting for his own concrete goals, nor finding the right allies, especially leaders of business big or small. Instead, his latent hostility to the business community has provoked a mutual response of disrespect. This is lamentable given the unique role that small business especially plays in creating jobs.
The president appears to consider himself immune from error and asserts the fault always lies elsewhere—be it in the opposition in Congress or the Japanese tsunami or in the failure of his audience to fully understand the wisdom and benefits of his proposals. But in politics, the failure of communication is invariably the fault of the communicator.
. . . .Now many of his sharpest critics are his former supporters. Witness Bill Broyles, a one-time admirer who recently wrote in Newsweek that “Americans aren’t inspired by well-meaning weakness.” The president who first inspired with great speeches on red and blue America now seems to lack the ability to communicate any sense of resolve for a program, or any realization of the urgency of what might befall us. The teleprompter he almost always uses symbolizes and compounds his emotional distance from his audience.
It’s dawning on many Americans that they made a bad hire. Obama was slick and seductive in the interview that stretched from early 2007 to November 2008; the competition was unexciting and, to be blunt, old. But it turned out he had no real job skills, didn’t get along with others, failed to translate rhetoric into action and became blinded by his own ego.
The lesson here is an existential one: Leaders are what they do. They become revered because they perform, understand their market, show creativity, deliver unexpected gains and beat the competition. The star quality follows accomplishments and performance.
Failure is never cool; lofty salesmanship without a solid product is annoying. Obama is forever “pivoting” and “resetting,” but the problem remains. He promises to roll out a “new and improved” job agenda, but the public anticipates it will be neither. The voters are restless, angry and shopping around for a replacement. If they find a competent one, Obama will be retired, not as a beloved leader but as an example of underachievement. Maybe we should have checked references?