The Best Leadership Advice You'll Get From a Steve Jobs Movie

April 14, 2017

Great leaders don't do everything themselves. They coach to make people around them better.

There’s a great scene in the 2015 movie Steve Jobs where Steve Wozniak, played by Seth Rogen, tells Steve Jobs, played by Michael Fassbender, all the things he doesn’t do.

Jobs isn’t a designer, Wozniak said. He isn’t a coder, he never really invented anything himself, some of his early products he stole, Wozniak said. So what is it that Jobs does exactly, Wozniak asked?

“I play the orchestra,” Jobs answered.

And that’s exactly the concept so many managers don’t grasp. Rather than playing the orchestra – aka coach their employees to be their best – many bosses instead try to play all the instruments, and burn out their employees and themselves in the process.

That’s precisely why, when we asked 500 learning and development professionals the single biggest skill they were working to improve in their organizations, they said coaching. More than anything else, organizations want their managers to do a better job of playing the orchestra, instead of trying to play all the instruments.

But that requires a mindset change.

What the problem is and why it's so prominent

The job of a great leader, particularly a leader of a large organization, is not to do a bunch of tactical tasks. For example, if the CEO of a 10,000-person company spent his or her whole day in the factory building widgets, that wouldn’t be the best use of his or her time.

Instead, the main job of a leader is two-fold: to set strategy and to get the absolute most out of the people who work for them.

The latter is best done by the leader coaching his or her people, which means helping them solve problems on their own and becoming leaders in their own right. That cannot happen with the leader trying to answer every question and solve every issue, which stunts everyone’s growth and makes people dependent on him or her.

It sounds good on paper. And yet, this is a concept managers struggle with more than any other.


Most managers are promoted because they are excellent individual contributors. Say, for example, you are an excellent salesperson and then you are promoted to lead a team of 10 salespeople. When one of those salespeople comes to you with an issue, your instinct is to solve it yourself, because you have confidence in your abilities and it’s the quickest way to fix things.

But that’s playing the instruments, instead of playing the orchestra. And while it might fix problems in the short-term, in the long-term it causes stagnation and dependence.

How to ensure you “play the orchestra”

As mentioned earlier, coaching actually goes against the instincts of many managers who are eager to fix problems. Hence, coaching is a skill that needs to be learned.

So how do you coach an employee? Well, LinkedIn Learning Instructor Lisa Gates covers that fully in her course Coaching and Developing Employees. But, she said there are three cornerstones to coaching effectively.

They are:

1. Be curious.

At it’s core, coaching is about asking open-ended questions that encourage people to reflect, source new perspectives and take self-guided action, Gates said in her course.

So, the next time an employee comes to you with a problem, don’t strain your brain to come with a solution. Instead, ask them about the problem, encourage them to uncover the main obstacles and find a solution.

2. Let the employee lead.

Along those lines, you shouldn’t dominate the conversation when coaching an employee. If you are doing that, you aren’t really letting the person solve the problem on their own.

Instead, allow them to process the situation out loud and come to a solution. Give them the freedom to test that solution as well, even allowing them to fail. By allowing that, the employee will more quickly get to the root cause of the problem on their own and find a solution that best works for them.

3. Coach the whole person.

Employees aren’t robots. The reality is, home life can affect their work life, and if you don’t address that it’ll hamper your ability to help them improve.

So if someone comes to you with a personal problem, don’t dismiss it or immediately provide a solution. Instead, act like a coach, in the same way you’d act like a coach in a work situation. This again will help them come to a solution on their own and get better because of it.

Tying it all together

A classic problem with managers is that they are so focused on hitting their short-term goals, they lose focus of their real job: to get the most out of their people. So they run around day after day fixing each problem that comes up to reach short-term goals. Meanwhile, they’re people aren’t improving and they aren’t setting themselves up for long-term success.

To be a great manager, you need to keep things in perspective. Yes, fixing a problem yourself today will fix that problem, it might even help you hit that quarter’s goals. But, it will mean you’ll have to fix that problem again and again and again, instead of empowering the employee to fix it himself or herself.

Conversely, if you adopt a coaching mindset, your people will improve over time. And that’ll mean less work for you over time, where you aren’t spending your days constantly putting out fires.

Secondly, by adopting this coaching mentality, you unleash the full creativity and potential of your team. If you fix every problem yourself, your team is only as talented as one person – you. If you empower other people to solve their problems, your team will be as creative and talented as everyone on it.

All of those reasons are exactly why L&D professionals are spending a lot of money and time working to turn managers into coaches. They want people who play the orchestra, instead of trying to play all the instruments.

Want to become a great coach? Watch Lisa Gates' LinkedIn Learning course, Coaching and Developing Employees, today.