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Suffer the Rejection Personally
Had the original Apple iPhone shipped to customers with a plastic screen rather than the Gorilla Glass made by Corning, perhaps the world would be less enthralled with smartphones. The story of how this glass came to be used on iPhones offers an important — but less obvious — leadership lesson.
Prior to launching the iPhone, Steve Jobs called Corning’s CEO, Wendell Weeks, and asked for the company to create a glass cover for a new Apple product — and Jobs gave Weeks a six-month deadline! Wendell passed Jobs’ request on to his engineers, who responded that they could not meet this deadline. Jobs called the engineers repeatedly only to be told his request was impossible. Yet, Jobs still flew to Corning and personally presented Wendell with a large order for the glass. Wendell was struck by Jobs’ passion and asked his team to fulfill the order with a new glass they had developed. The rest is, as they say, history.
The leadership lesson goes beyond the importance of persistence. What Jobs reminds us is that the best leaders don’t delegate rejection. Jobs could have easily asked his lawyers or engineers to engage Corning and seek a solution. That would have been the easy path — to allow others to be told “No” repeatedly. Yet, Jobs’ passion for his new product and the need to convince others of its importance required him to suffer the rejection personally.
All leaders face situations where they expect rejection. It’s easy to ask others — a team member, a spouse, a friend, an expert — to get rejected for us. The hurt feelings associated with a brush-off make it attractive to pass the rejection buck. The best leaders fight off this temptation and refuse to delegate rejection.
When leaders willingly face potential rejection, they are viewed as more passionate and committed to the request. Delegating rejection to others is painless. The willingness to be rejected, especially for those who have others to do this work, tells the story of what really matters to the leader.