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  • Darren Gold

Love and Performance: The Steve Jobs Counterfactual

Why aren’t there more Federers and Nadellas? Because it’s hard work leading with virtue and character.


This past Saturday, three professional tennis players, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal, could each lay claim to the record of most Grand Slam titles won by a man (the real G.O.A.T., Serena Williams, has won twenty-three). On Sunday, however, the record belonged to only one man. Nadal defeated Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open, earning his twenty-first Grand Slam title. To say that the rivalry between these three champions has been fierce is an understatement. We may never again witness one like it in professional tennis. So, what did Federer do upon hearing that the record that he was the first to reach had just been surpassed? He posted this.


What a class act. Federer’s act of grace was not uncharacteristic. He is admired for his character as much as he is for his tennis strokes.


We love stories of good people in sports because they are rare. For some reason, we see virtue, kindness, and generosity as antithetical to winning. Yet deep down we don’t want to believe that to be true, so we are eager for evidence to the contrary. For years, CEOs who believed they could be both kind and outperform their competition had to overcome the Steve Jobs myth – namely, that to be successful you have to act like a tyrant. Steve Jobs was an extraordinary leader to be sure. But the world has been hungry for a counterfactual. It came in the form of Satya Nadella, who took the helm at Microsoft in 2014 when the company was valued at just under $400 billion. Microsoft today has a market cap of $2.3 trillion, the second largest in the world. He is a markedly different leader than Jobs and his predecessor Steve Ballmer - - the first book he asked his leadership team to read was Marshall Rosenberg's classic Nonviolent Communication. Perhaps we can consider Satya the Federer of the corporate world. Perhaps we can consider Satya the Federer of the corporate world.


Why aren’t there more Federers and Nadellas in a world that desperately needs them? Because it’s hard work leading with virtue and character. In fairness, the pressure to perform is extremely high. But it’s not impossible. Federer, Nadella, and others are living examples. They chose the harder path. They are our true heroes and role models. I have chosen the same path in my own leadership. At a recent company offsite, I declared my intention to lead with love AND performance. I told my team that I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. I believe they are interdependent. At some point in my life, I reached the fork in the road that poet Robert Frost wrote about.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


I have chosen the one less traveled by. How will you choose?


Tuesday Tips

  1. Tony Schwartz’s 2015 New York Times article, “The Bad Behavior of Visionary Leaders,” is worth revisiting.

  2. If you’re hard on yourself for not getting back to people by email, you might want to read The Atlantic’s article, “What If We Just Stopped Being So Available.”

  3. Arthur Brooks makes a strong case for having more art in our lives in his most recent column.


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