And he definitely expected a lot from people in leadership roles.
Here's a story from John Rossman's upcoming book, Think Like Amazon:
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."
Rossman calls embracing that level of responsibility "owning your dependencies": Taking absolute responsibility for every possible dependency under your purview.
The 'No Excuses' Rule of Leadership
You need parts to complete an order, and the shipment from your vendor is late? You should have made sure commitments were clear. You should have put contingencies and redundancies in place. The late shipment may be the vendor's fault... but making sure critical parts are on hand is your responsibility.
I dress casually for my flight to Tampa for a speaking gig, the airline makes me check my carry-on bag at the end of the jetway, and then my bag goes to Vegas? I could have packed a back-up set of clothes in my backpack. And I could have worn nicer clothes on the plane. Losing my bag may be the airline's fault... but making sure I have the clothes I need is my responsibility.
There's a quote often credited to Ignatius: "Pray as if God will take care of all; act as if all is up to you."
The same premise applies to personal responsibility. Many people feel success or failure is caused by external forces -- and especially by other people. If they succeed, other people helped them, supported them... other people were "with" them. If they fail, other people let them down, didn't believe in them, didn't help them... other people were "against" them.
To an extent that is, of course, true. No one ever does anything worthwhile on their own.
But successful people don't totally rely on others. Successful people put contingencies in place. Successful people shoot for the best and plan for the worst. They set clear expectations. They communicate -- a lot. They follow up. They mentor and guide and train. They lead and work through others... but they accept final responsibility.
Why? Because the only thing they know they can control is themselves. They act as if success or failure is totally within their control. If they succeed, they caused it. If they fail, they caused it.
Don't waste any wasting mental energy hoping -- or worrying -- about what might happen. Put all your effort into making and making sure things happen. Be proactive.
Be responsible for every possible dependency -- especially the ones that make the biggest difference in your success.
As Jobs would say, "Reasons stop mattering."
Never make excuses.
Never list reasons.
And never point fingers.
Unless, of course, you point them at yourself -- and resolve that next time you'll do whatever it takes to make sure things turn out the way you plan.