Nelson Mandela. Mother Teresa. Steve Jobs. None of them trained to be a leader. So what made them so good at it?

Steve Jobs once approached an engineer at Apple, Larry Kenyon, to ask him to do some re-programming of the Apple computer’s operating system so that the reboot time for the machine would be reduced by a few seconds. Larry was not at all keen to take this on. So what does Steve Jobs do next?

Steve waltzed to the white board, and started to write some math down for Larry. ‘How many Macintosh users were out there? So if they rebooted the machine once every day, for a whole year, and we saved 10 seconds from the reboot time, how many total seconds did we save? How many seconds are there in the average lifespan of a human?’ He showed how, if five million people were using the Mac and it took 10 seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to 300 million or so hours a year — the equivalent of at least 100 lifetimes a year, which is what Larry would save if he shaved off 10 seconds. That’s all the motivation Larry needed! 

After a few weeks, Larry Kenyon had the machine booting up a whole 28 seconds faster.

This story reveals a lot about a simple secret to great leadership. Steve knew there was a sleeping hero in Larry, and he wanted to rouse him. He did so by engaging in a simple action – to give Larry an uplifting meaning for the task he wanted him to perform. He wasn’t going through any elaborate checklist or toolkit for how to lead – he was simply inviting Larry to go on a hero’s journey.

And that’s what we have discovered from our study of great leaders and great movements. People like Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt or Steve Jobs. These leaders weren’t educated in the discipline of leadership in any formal manner. What they did do is use simple actions to activate the Inner Core in others – the space of highest performance within them. Like the action of taking someone on a hero’s journey.

And that’s what we at Mentora Institute guide people to do in our training – to learn simple actions that can help them create the conditions where, naturally so, inspiration, collaboration and heroic quests can arise. To be effective, leadership doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the more we reduce it to its essence, the more magical its possibilities become.