“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” – Steve Jobs
Up until Silicon Valley, I always thought of leadership as someone who directs others – who brings them to success. I used to think that everyone at Duke was a leader – I mean that’s a skill we all have on our resumes, right?
Well, to be frank, we shouldn’t. That is, not unless we’ve proven it. Just because we are the President of some organization or are the captain of a Club Sports team does not mean we are a leader. Did we inspire anyone in the process or did we just go through the motions of what we thought a leader should do?
This week we met individuals that are arguably the best examples of extraordinary leaders. Since I began the article with a Steve Jobs quote, I’ll start with our visit to Apple this week. At Apple we met Eddy Cue, who probably doesn’t need an introduction but for those who may not know, Eddy is the senior VP of Internet Software and Services. Eddy has been at Apple for almost 30 years now and stayed there during its earliest days when it was about to go bankrupt (hard to imagine). When asked why he stayed, his answer was immediate and simple: Steve Jobs. Steve was such a great leader that he kept Eddy motivated during a time where he thought the future of Apple was looking very dismal. Eddy explained that Steve pointed out characteristics in him that he never saw in himself and gave him confidence in those newfound skills. That is a great leader – someone who finds a way to inspire others in the darkest of times and to build relationships to constantly make their peers better.
In the beginning of the week we had the pleasure of meeting Ravi Gupta, COO/CFO of Instacart. Ravi has mastered the leadership skill of building relationships and creating a positive work environment. Ravi put together a panel of Duke alumni for us to talk with and the first thing I noticed was their relationship – his employees were making fun of him! Ravi then responded with a great comeback and the banter went back and forth. It really seemed like I was watching an episode of Friends! Ravi established a genuine relationship with his employees and they felt comfortable enough around him to joke around. By building these personal relationships with his employees he has created a work environment in which everyone is free to discuss their thoughts and opinions – even to him. A leader does not instruct or dictate employees, they encourage employees to curate new ideas and to present them with confidence. I could tell that Ravi exemplifies this characteristic – it was extremely noticeable that his employees loved working with him. I say with because Ravi mentioned that he does not consider his employees to be working under him; he considers them his equals.
We also visited Zume Pizza where we met Alex Garden, Chairman and CEO. Zume Pizza is revolutionizing the food industry utilizing robotics. While Alex could not talk to us for a long time since he had to catch a flight, I realized how effective his leadership is by talking to some of the interns. When asked what they liked most about interning at Zume, they all answered, “Alex.” The word I kept hearing over and over was “motivating”. They all agreed that Alex takes the time to give the best feedback possible – he will tell you exactly what you are doing right and wrong and what you can do to improve. They said that Alex forms a true relationship with each person in the company and cares about them deeply. His main goal is to make his employees better – he prioritizes the individuals in his company and not revenue. A leader makes it their mission to challenge their staff to make them better. Alex has gone to the extreme to even focus on establishing relationships with his interns – he is a true leader.
I’ve realized the direct correlation between a company’s success and its leader. These visits and interactions have made me reflect on the type of leader I want to be. I’m extremely lucky to have met these individuals because they now serve as my inspiration.
Elle is a rising junior from Stamford, Connecticut pursuing a major in mechanical engineering and a certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship. At Duke, she is an active member of Dukes and Duchesses, Alpha Phi, Duke Engineers for International Development, Club Volleyball, and Duke Admissions Ambassadors. Since coming to Silicon Valley she has realized her passion for entrepreneurship and hopes to find a career in product management. She will be traveling to Australia this fall to study abroad.