Lessons on Leadership from Steve Jobs
23rd July 2012
We have never seen such an outpouring of grief for a corporate CEO as we did when Steve Jobs died in October 2011. People loved him for the revolutionary changes he brought to computers, music and animation.
But what can we learn from Jobs’ leadership style – what was it he did to build the most valuable company in the world? After reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, you learn that Jobs led Apple by ignoring traditional management advice.
According to Isaacson’s account, Jobs ran Apple by being egotistical and uncompromising. He frequently ranted, threatened and made embarrassing outbursts against his employees and rivals. He even publicly cried sometimes.
But is there some learning from the way in which Jobs ran Apple?
1. Don’t confuse consensus with collaboration
Jobs was not interested in consensus. He didn’t care if people agreed with him. He felt that he knew better than his employees or even the consumer. He insisted on having his way.
He pushed his employees extremely hard, way out of their comfort zones. Jobs was good at getting people to work together to accomplish things they didn’t believe they could achieve. That’s the definition of leadership!
Lesson: You need a clear vision, not agreement. Push ahead, but foster collaboration to make that vision a reality and turn it into a profitable product or service.
2. The ends always justify the means
Jobs’ mantra was that Apple was on this earth to create the greatest products. In his mind, whatever he had to do to get there was justified.
Lesson: As long as it’s not illegal or immoral, push as hard as you can to get what your company needs to best serve its customers. If you are successful in business, the ends will likely justify the means.
3. Build complementary skills
Jobs also did not confuse leadership with management. His style was uncompromising. While he may not have been a great manager, he built a stellar team of managers like Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, Jonathan Ives and Phil Schiller. They complemented his style. They all had to have an opinion on a matter or Jobs would mow them down. They all performed well even when he was on medical leave .
Lesson: Build a strong management team that is complementary to your strengths and style.
4. Focus, focus, focus
Jobs’ approach was to work on fewer products, but make them the best.
Every Monday morning, Jobs would meet with his senior management team to discuss where Apple was going. Rather than explore many directions, he felt his job was to pare down what Apple was working on. Jobs said he learned this while pruning trees in his friend’s apple orchard.
Lesson: Focus your business on less, not more.
5. Commitment to the long haul
Jobs didn’t care what other people thought or how long it took to accomplish his goal. He was committed to his long-term vision. For example, his digital hub strategy became iTunes.
Lesson: Stay the course. Overnight success sometimes takes seven to 10 years