Why Steve Jobs insisted on A players

The cornerstone of Apple’s innovative edge under Steve Jobs

In this edition of Elite Team Talks:

  • One quick win: The magic phrase of super listeners

  • One proven system: How to use the Capability Gap system

  • One to watch: How “A” players shaped Apple’s destiny

  • One for you: The new & surprising science behind “feeling fatigued”

  • One million-dollar question: The magic wand question

  • Ones we recommend: Andy Farrell’s iconic speech ahead of the decisive British & Irish Lions third test against Australia in 2013

  • One quote: Simon Sinek’s take on modern-day leadership

A warm welcome to the new subscribers this week 🫡 

Every week, we share the strategies and blueprints behind the world's most successful teams so you can become the best leader in your industry!

1. THE MAGIC PHRASE OF SUPER LISTENERS

When someone in your team brings you a problem, hands up if you’ve…

  1. Offered to solve the problem immediately

  2. Tried to add value

  3. Shared a story about a similar challenge you’ve faced

  4. Provided them with resources to check out

These are all well-intentioned but not the right response.

Problems are like icebergs.

Small and simple on the surface but extremely complex and nuanced beneath.

So try this simple phrase next time someone comes to you with a problem…

“Tell me more...”

The most effective listeners are like trampolines, according to NYT best-selling author and “Culture” expert - Daniel Coyle.

They absorb what their team members share with them, show them support and a safe space to talk and then add energy to help the conversation gain velocity and altitude.

Never stop at your team’s first response.

Surface the tension.

  • What else is happening inside and outside of work?

  • What led to this problem?

  • Who else could help?

  • Where is this heading?

Knowledge is power.

2. THE CAPABILITY GAP FRAMEWORK

Between every person and their goals is a gap.

It’s the space between who you are today and who you need to become to achieve your dreams.

In our experience, most people underestimate their full capability and overestimate their current output.

In other words, they think their Capability Gap is very small when in reality it's much larger than they think.

It’s your job as the coach to close the gap.

  1. Take a hard look at your current lineup—what skills, knowledge, tools, and strategies do you have in your arsenal right now? This assessment should be brutally honest to pinpoint where you’re starting from.

  2. Like a skilled coach, pick the ones that will make the most impact on your game plan and are realistic for your team to tackle right now.

  3. Develop strategies for each gap. Whether it’s training your team to build new skills, recruiting fresh talent, or upgrading your tools—plan your moves strategically.

Not every gap needs immediate attention.

And in the words of Snoop Dogg, “You gotta keep going up because if you go down, you lose. That’s why closing the gap gotta be them catching up to you.”

Identify your team’s gaps and work relentlessly to close them.

Bonus tip: ask your team what they think are your capability gaps.

We all have blind spots.

Ensure the analysis feels like a two-way street to get the best out of this process.

3. HOW “A” PLAYERS SHAPED APPLE’S DESTINY

“I’ve built a lot of my success from finding the A players and not settling for B & C players.”

Every successful leader talks about the importance of hiring.

“A” players like working with other “A” players so when you are strict about the standard of who enters the team, the group will then start self policing future entrants.

How can you replicate the success of the Apple hiring model?

  1. Define What "A Player" Means for Your Team: not just technical skills, but also creativity, problem-solving abilities, and alignment with the company's vision and culture.

  2. Implement a thorough and rigorous interview process: This might include multiple rounds of interviews involving problem-solving exercises, technical tests, and behavioural interviews. This allows you to assess a candidate’s skills, thought processes, and compatibility with the team culture.

  3. Involve the Team: Jobs believed in a collaborative interview process where candidates meet with potential future colleagues. This not only helps assess cultural fit but also makes existing team members feel involved and responsible for maintaining high standards. Seeing how potential hires function in a team is just as crucial as assessing them on their own.

  4. Look for Passion and Drive: Jobs valued passion and a relentless drive for excellence. Look for candidates who are passionate about their work and exhibit a strong desire to innovate and push boundaries.

  5. Hire for Potential and Growth: While experience is important, consider the candidate’s potential for growth and ability to learn. Apple under Jobs was known for innovation, which often requires thinking beyond current skills and knowledge.

One of Jobs’ famous mantras was “A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”

Don’t settle for less. It will cost you more time and money in the long-term.

4. THE SCIENCE OF “FATIGUE” AND HOW TO PUSH BEYOND YOUR LIMITS

Throughout the majority of modern history, fatigue was viewed as a physical phenomenon, caused by changes in our blood and muscles.

It went like this..

❌ Change in physiology (e.g. less oxygen, etc.) > body can't work as hard > slow down or stop.

BUT due to modern science, we now know that fatigue is a 'brain-derived phenomenon', not a physiological factor.

It goes like this..

✅ Change in physiology > signal to the brain > brain determines importance of continuing vs potential damage > change / maintain pace.

To further confirm this 'central governer' model of fatigue, in the worst possible scenario where marathon runners 'bonk', they still have 10 to 30% of energy still left in their muscles in the form of glycogen.

This teaches us a simple lesson; when you feel like you can't go any longer, or push any harder, physically - you can.

Use this formula:

Fatigue = Perception of effort ➗ Psychological drive

  1. Increase your perception of effort (how hard it feels) and fatigue increases.

-> Perception of effort is dictated by a) how fit you are, and b) your pain tolerance.

  1. Decrease your psychological drive (motivation to continue) and fatigue increases.

-> The motivation to continue is dictated by your 'why'.

As you can see here, 2 out of the 3 areas dictating fatigue and performance are psychological.

It's up to you to determine whether it's your fitness levels, pain tolerance or 'why' that are primarily holding you back.

If it's your fitness levels, book in a physical challenge/activity in 3 months time so you have something to aim towards when working out.

If it's your pain tolerance, work on progressively seeking discomfort, as previous exposure to pain improves your tolerance. Interestingly, mindfulness training and yoga have also been shown to improve pain tolerance, by down-regulating our brain's interpretation of pain signals.

If it's your 'why', undertake the 5 why's exercise to identify the extremely meaningful reason behind pushing yourself whenever you're hurting! Then voila, discomfort = success!

If you're interested in understanding more, this is a great talk on the subject.

5. QUESTION OF THE WEEK 🤔

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the way we work, what would it be?

Ask each member of the team this question at least once per month.

It will empower team members, by making them feel valued and included in the decision-making process.

They also start to think beyond current constraints, shifting mindsets from focusing on problems as they are, to considering potential solutions.

It is so useful for you as the leader of the team, as you will start to understand their desires and needs, including what they find most frustrating or limiting in their current environment.

Implement at least a couple of the suggested changes every month.

Reply to this email and let us know how you get on - we’d love to know the best suggestion somebody comes back to you with this week 🤝

6. LINKS OF THE WEEK 🔗

HIRING 

  • Why 65% of Gen Z talent leave their job within the first year and how to fix it (LINK)

  • New guidance from the Department of Work and CIPD on hiring people with disabilities (LINK)

LEADERSHIP

  • 6x things that will tell if you are destined for leadership (LINK)

  • 3x ways that will help close the gender pay gap in leadership roles (LINK)

CULTURE

  • Neuroinclusive changes you can make to your workplace (LINK)

  • Lessons we can learn from Sweden’s healthy workplace culture of Fika (LINK)

TEAM DEVELOPMENT

  • Andy Farrell (Coach of the British Lions 🏉) delivered this iconic speech ahead of the decisive third test against Australia in 2013 (LINK)

  • 7x ways diversity and inclusion help teams perform better (LINK)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK 🗣️

"Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about taking care of those in your charge."

Simon Sinek, Author of Start With Why

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