Steve Jobs told employees a short story when they were promoted to vice president at Apple. Jobs would tell the VP that if the garbage in his office was not being emptied, Jobs would naturally demand an explanation from the janitor. “Well, the lock on the door was changed,” the janitor could reasonably respond. “And I couldn’t get a key.”
The janitor’s response is reasonable. It’s an understandable excuse. The janitor can’t do his job without a key. As a janitor, he’s allowed to have excuses.
“When you’re the janitor, reasons matter,” Jobs told his newly-minted VPs. “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.”
“In other words,” Jobs continued, “when the employee becomes a vice president, he or she must vacate all excuses for failure. A vice president is responsible for any mistakes that happen, and it doesn’t matter what you say.”
It is a story from John Rossman’s upcoming book titled Think Like Amazon. Steve Jobs had a simple theory about what separates great leaders from all the rest. If it is your job to lead, and a lot depends on you, there is no excuse for failure.