double command. Risks and benefits of shared leadership

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The coexistence of Steve Jobs and John Sculley is cited as an example of double command driving that ended up failing

The coexistence of Steve Jobs and John Sculley is cited as an example of double command leadership that ended up failing – Credits: @MediaNews Group / The Mercury News

We are seeing in our country a ship steered by a captain who was placed and a captain who wants to lead. We are facing an internal struggle for power. The point is that these fights, in general, take place between roosters and midnight, but now we saw it and we see it in daylight.

This, which happens in politics, also happens in many organizations and companies are not deprived of these conflicts that terribly erode the work environment and leave a culture of friction and thread. All this prevents a work environment that promotes innovation and the fulfillment of a purpose.

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It is very difficult to think about innovating when all energies are focused on making it impossible for others to take away power.

These palace wars generate factions and block organizations. This produces an interorganizational crack that sucks time. A black hole of energy.

That’s what happened to Apple in the ’80s. John Sculley was hired as CEO of Apple in 1983, due to his extensive experience in running the PepsiCo business, where he had been CEO. The company’s board was hoping that Sculley would give Apple a management style that the company required. They thought Sculley would bring a more mature style of doing business to a company that was growing rapidly but was run by inexperienced executives, including co-founder Steve Jobs.

In 1985, Sculley convinced the company’s board to remove all management responsibilities from Jobs. Precisely to Jobs that he had been one of the best product designers of all time.

In 1985, the company released the second generation of the Mac, the Macintosh Office. The product was derided as a game, a machine without much capacity. “Steve went into a depression,” recalls Sculley. As a result, Jobs told Sculley to lower the price of the Macintosh and put more money into the advertising campaign. For Sculley this would not make a difference. “The reason the Mac doesn’t sell has nothing to do with price or advertising,” Sculley told Jobs, “if you do that, the risk is to lose the company a lot of money.” Jobs was totally opposed to this idea. Sculley threatened Jobs to take this issue up with the company’s management, which he did. Both presented the case in front of the board separately. That was how the board allowed Sculley to remove Jobs as head of the Mac division and, eventually, as Chairman of the company. As they say in the jargon: he cleaned it.

From left to right, Steve Jobs, John Sculley (then CEO of Apple), and Steve Wozniak at the Apple II unveiling in April 1977

From left to right, Steve Jobs, John Sculley (then CEO of Apple), and Steve Wozniak at the Apple II unveiling in April 1977

Sculley’s experience in marketing was not good and, if we add his lack of technical knowledge of the products, the future was marked. During his time as CEO he invested heavily in various projects that were unsuccessful, including Apple Newton, cameras and CD Players. In 1993 he was fired. In 1997, Apple ended up buying a computer company that Jobs created (NeXT), and Jobs became CEO that same year. Like Sculley, the rest is history.

Many management publications consider Sculley one of the worst CEOs in history because his jealousy of Jobs and the threat he felt from Jobs’ knowledge caused the company to lose billions.

Jealousy, insecurity, rivalry came before the needs of the company and its continuity. During Sculley’s time as CEO of the company, Apple suffered from failed projects, useless investments and fights between its managers. Quite a cutie Sculley. A rotten apple.

There are cases where the double command, however, works fine. The aviation company Southwest Airlines, the most profitable in the history of its sector, was founded by Herb Kelleher in 1967 to become one of the largest companies in the United States and one of the largest low cost companies in the world. The company’s culture and its slogan “A symbol of freedom” generated an incomparable culture with people highly committed to the organization. The anecdotes of Kelleher dressed as Elvis for company meetings or his late-night visits to the hangars where Southwest mechanics worked are famous.

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After more than 30 years leading the company, Kelleher retired from the role of CEO. It was essential to be able to elect his successor to sustain the corporate culture and results. On June 19, 2001, Kelleher retired as CEO, remaining as Chairman of the Board. As his successor, he did not choose one person, but two: James Parker, who succeeded him as CEO, and Coleen Barrett, as president. Parker had his eyes on the scorecard and Barrett on the culture. Two complementary forces that respected each other and were able to advance in their roles, taking care of the company at a time when the airline industry was put to the test after the September 11 attack.

The case of Jobs and Scully shows us two antagonists where they did not know how to take advantage of the other’s skills, as they did in the case of Parker and Barrett. The double command requires complementary forces that respect each other and that understand that they can win with the work of the other. When there is jealousy or competition to bring the other down, that double command becomes a non-command, leaving the organization on the brink of collapse.


How to avoid some of these situations? On the one hand, it would be important to quickly invent the ego-reducing machine. The ego is to blame for countless fights and bad decisions connected with the desire to appear or be heard more than others. Self-knowledge is crucial. If we don’t know how to cooperate, we should start doing it. Already.

On the other hand, there is an underlying philosophical question: with you I can be better. Yes, we know, it sounds corny, but it’s terribly true (indeed, those of us who write this column feel that together our writing is empowered).

It is important to ask ourselves, do I believe that with the help of others I can perform more and be better? Or am I, who is super intelligent, all that this organization needs? The medieval philosophers already knew it, the reductio ad absurdum allows us to see how childish we are.

One last thing. Seeing the other as an enemy is the beginning of endless silences and organizational gossip. Therefore, it is crucial to work on honest feedback and sustained trust. We all prefer the truth to the face… even if the truth costs us dearly.

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