By Barry Stern, Ph.D.
As I've spent the last week working and vacationing in Tokyo and Kyoto Japan and falling in love with this country, I was surprised to have John Lennon on the brain. Not only is Yoko Ono from Tokyo, but I have been surprised by how much the peace sign is alive and well here in the Far East. It seemed that tourists posing for pictures, young and old, east and west (mostly east as observationally at least tourism has not returned to normal following what they refer to as the “Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster”) broke out into a spontaneous display of a vote for peace. Echoes of John and Yoko pleading "all we are saying is give peace a chance" have been reverberating in my mind. John was an intimate partner to me, a man I never met who sparked a love for music that today still inspires me and bonds me with my children. When “Sgt. Peppers” came out I was hypnotized. I still am. And I remember with abundant clarity exactly where I was when I found out of his death in Dec 1980; the grass wallpaper on my parents' den wall, the ABC-TV newscasters name (Ernie Anastos) who read the announcement; the glassy-eyed vacuous stares of the throng outside the Dakota Hotel on the TV; the lump in my throat that lasted for what felt like years.
And, as I sit here typing on my iPad, I will also remember the night in Kyoto when I found out about the death of Stephen Jobs. Another intimate friend never talked to. The shrines to him evocative of those to Lennon; he melded business with art through the look and feel of his innovations and the now omnipresent sound track of my travels. Of course I knew he was a very sick man and the rattle I feel in my 50s is much less than that of the emotional youth hearing about John.
I was not surprised to hear that Lennon and the Beatles were very much heroes to Jobs as well. In the end perhaps both men measured themselves not by their own recognition or wealth, but by their ability to, as Jobs put it, “make a dent in the universe.” Perhaps their greatest success was nothing less than inspiring others to greatness, to innovate in ways never dreamt. In our recent Global Leadership Forecast which included 1900 HR Professionals and 12,500 leaders in 74 countries, we found that only 38% of leaders felt the quality of leadership was acceptable, only 25% when we asked the same question of HR professionals. Further, we found that the leaders’ ability to foster creativity and innovation was one of the 5 critical leadership skills of the future, along with managing change and identifying future talent.
We can’t expect every leader to be the genius that Jobs or Lennon were, but they can learn to be the spark that creates the environment for greatness. For example, they can learn to inspire insatiable curiosity, make it okay to challenge perspectives, and meld those with the discipline to get things done. And, as Jobs might have said, that would certainly be “insanely great.”