Real Talk: The Lessons 2017’s Leaders Need to Know
After two terms, President Obama will be leaving office. How do you reinvent yourself after a long career?
Addison: Having personally gone through that—leaving a company that I was with for 34 years and the last 15 years as co-CEO—I think it is incredibly important to not retire but to rewire and to find something that you’re passionate about that is different. Use it as an opportunity to reinvent and move forward. It’s very easy for successful people or people making a change to spend all of their time talking about what they did and what their past was. The reality is you need to create something where you move forward, where you have something that invigorates you and you’re excited about. Use it as an opportunity to start over, to move into a bold new future.
You need to use it as a time of reflection to find what motivates you. This way you’re careful before jumping into something too fast. Take your time and think things through. Very seldom in life do we have a moment like summer break between school years. Use your time, particularly if you’ve been successful, to go impact other things.
President-elect Donald Trump has a lot of important positions to fill in his cabinet and throughout the government. What leadership qualities do you look for when building a team?
Addison: No. 1: You are always better off if you know the people. When you know each of them as a person and know that there’s going to be a connection between you and them, it is very important. Surround yourself with honest, good people—not just smart people. Clearly you want people who are smart and good at what they’re doing, but you want somebody who has a good heart and wants to do things for the right reasons—a person of honor. You also want somebody who is incredibly competent at the job and whose personality meshes with you, the environment and the team you want to build.
You also don’t need to put together a team where everyone is a yes-man or yes-woman. You need to have people who are respectful but do not necessarily agree with one another. When you’re in a leadership role, you need to hear different opinions. You don’t need a roomful of people saying, “Wow, what a great idea.” You need people who will challenge your thinking and challenge each other’s thinking.
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This year Apple will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. How do you constantly drive improvement?
Addison: Tim Cook’s challenge is that Apple is so big now. In a lot of things, you can get too big to succeed. Apple is so gigantic you have to have a bureaucracy, and that makes it much more difficult to play it safe. The way to constantly find innovation is to create incubators of new ideas with young, aggressive, excited people in them—not just people who have been around since Steve Jobs had the idea. You have to make sure they are protected and funded in a way that they can innovate and think and not be caught up in constant corporate bureaucracy. It’s very difficult; with size comes the challenges of size.
The other thing is you have to be honest with yourself. You have to have an environment where you ask yourself, Are we moving ahead? You have to make sure you hire bright, innovative people who are on the leading edge, and set up areas in your business that operate almost as if they were a startup. Give them the freedom to innovate and come up with ideas.
A lot of times, the bigger a business gets the more time is spent in meetings, giving presentations to one another. It gets very easy to mistake activity for achievement. You have to constantly evaluate, Are we doing the most important thing or are we just busy? There’s a difference between busy and getting things done.
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In February, Leonardo DiCaprio will be one full year removed from winning his first Oscar. How do you stay hungry and continue to set new goals?
Addison: Anytime you reach a milestone, it’s important to celebrate. Then you need to work hard to find the next thing you want to achieve. I once spoke with a football coach who had coached with Nick Saban at the University of Alabama. He talked about winning the National Championship and the next week they get back, and the first thing Saban is doing is focusing on wide-open recruiting for the next class to come in to win it again. Continuous success requires discipline. You have to always be focused on where you’re going, not what you’ve done. The day you get old—not chronologically old but mentally old—is the day you spend more time talking about what you did than what you’re going to do.
I don’t want to spend my time with folks talking about what I did or the speech I gave. I want to do something exciting, new and different. I want 2017 to be an adventurous year and do something different. Always stretch your horizon. Maybe at some point DiCaprio doesn’t want to act anymore; he could want to do something fundamentally different. Look at people like Clint Eastwood, now in his 80s, who went from being a young heartthrob to middle-aged tough guy to an incredibly successful director. Life is about evolving, changing and moving forward.
As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will now likely face some strong opposition, how do you stand up for your beliefs when you’re outnumbered?
Addison: My biggest advice to anyone on either side is that in some way you have to get back to the ability to understand that nobody gets everything they want. You know the old Rolling Stones song, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.” We have totally lost that—the idea of compromise. Compromise is an evil word now. I always try to ask myself, What does this person want? What are their motivations? Why are they taking the positions they take? This way you try to understand the opposition so that you can work hard to compromise. Have the ability to sit down with somebody who is on the opposite side of the table from you and have a conversation and get to know them even when you’re not negotiating with somebody, so that it leads you to get something done. People have to get things done with people they disagree with, and that requires you to have an understanding of people and the ability to figure out how to compromise, which is unfortunately a lost art.
Related: John Addison: 7 Ways to Be Likeable
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After losing a three games-to-one lead in the NBA Finals this past summer, the Golden State Warriors are the favorite to win the title in 2017. How do you bounce back from disappointments and move on?
Addison: You bounce back from failure by using the feeling of disappointment as a fuel to drive you. If you’re made of the right stuff, having a disappointment like that where you were the favorite and lost a lead, that’s a huge motivation. You don’t want to have that feeling ever again. You want to prove to people that was a fluke.
You have to be a competitor. Whether you won or lost, what happened last year, happened last year. Every year you come into the season with everybody looking at what they did last year, and they say, “Oh man, they’re really going to be great this year,” and then they stink. On the other hand, you have teams who maybe did badly last year, and everyone believes they’re going to be a disaster, and they do great. You have to view every time you get a chance to compete as something new. The biggest thing somebody has to realize is that your No. 1 competition is you, not the other team. It’s the work you put in, how hard you work, what you do to go out every day, practicing and training like a champion. Everybody on your team needs to work to be the individual best self they can be and mesh into the best team they can be. The No. 1 competition is you and your team getting better every day so that you can win a championship. In life, disappointments happen and success happens. In either case, it has already happened and you need to focus on what you can do to move forward.
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Lady Gaga is slated to perform the halftime show at Super Bowl LI. How do you perform under pressure and such a large spotlight?
Addison: When you’re in a situation where you know the spotlight is going to be on you and you have to perform, it’s all mental and internal. You have to practice and you have to focus. You have to work hard on making sure you know exactly what you’re going to do, to the point where you can wake up at 3 a.m. and do it. This way you’re so prepared that the event is almost anticlimactic because you’ve done it so many times in your mind and at practice. The bigger the stage, the more you have to prepare.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.