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Steve Jobs LeadershipSteve Jobs Leadership


Steve Jobs (1955- 2011)


American co-founder of Apple with his friend, Steve Wozniak (pictured right below), in 1976, starting in his parents' garage in Silicon Valley, California.

Fired from Apple in 1985, he:

  • founded NeXT Computer (Tim Berners-Lee used one of its computers to invent the World Wide Web). Steve Jobs Leadership
  • bought Pixar Studios, makers of computer animated movies like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. He sold Pixar to Disney in 2006.

Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 as chief executive and made it hugely successful again with products like the:

  • iMac (1998).
  • iPod (2001).
  • iPhone (2007).
  • iPad (2010).

He sadly died of cancer in 2011, but his genius lives on at Apple, now the world's most valuable company.


Why was he a great leader?


1. Vision and purpose

The inevitability of death encouraged him to take risks and do something great with his life.

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life”, he said.

Every morning he asked himself:

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m afraid to do today?”

If his answer was ‘no’ several days in a row, he changed what he did.

He was a Zen Buddhist which gave him these vital insights:


a) the beginner's mind

Start everything without any preconceptions and with “the lightness of being a beginner again” (as he described the reason for his creativity after being fired by Apple)


b) living in the present

(and loving life).


c) mindful awareness

Being aware of the good and bad that life has to offer including joy, success, failure, pain and death.


d) making beautiful, useful things

(the intersection of art and business)

Beauty meant much more to him than money.

He didn't let other people's views extinguish his “inner voice” (what he thought was right).


2. Courage and determination

He had the guts to take on big challenges like his:

  • return to Apple in 1997.
  • battle against pancreatic cancer from 2004 .

But this made him value his life and its purpose even more.

His adopted parents' love and his determination helped him overcome the rejection of his birth parents. But many friends say this rejection made him insecure and aggressive (see point 6).


3. Lifelong learning and creativity

“Stay hungry, stay foolish”, he said i.e. he was always:

  • curious.
  • risking failure.
  • hungry for new and better ideas.
  • prepared to reject other people’s bad thinking (even when it made him look stupid).

His learning and creativity were also boosted by:

 Steve Jobs Leadership

a) education

His calligraphy skills from college helped to design Apple's Macintosh computer (launched in 1984, pictured right)

His high school teacher, Imogene Hill , gave him a passion for learning.


b) rebellion

(against dogma and conventional wisdom)

“It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy”, he said.


c) learning - from his:Steve Jobs Leadership

  • mistakes (particularly his early obsession with technical brilliance at the expense of customer satisfaction - see point 4).


d) putting thought into action

The people that really create the things that change this industry are both the thinker and doer in one person”, he said.Steve Jobs Leadership


4. Customer satisfaction and quality products

His philosophy was to build technically brilliant and beautifully designed products that customers would love.

So these were important to him


a) technological brilliance

(through research and development in teams).

 Steve Jobs Leadership

b) design

(why Jobs worked so closely with Apple's design chief, Jonathan Ive, pictured right).

Jobs loved the intersection between art (producing beauty) and technology.


c) knowledge and intuition

(to exploit market opportunities, as with iTunes that downloads music).


d) getting it right first time


But you can’t ask customers what they want, he said, because:

  • by the time you’ve built it they’ll want something new.
  • often “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.


5. Constant change and innovation

He was a perfectionist with an obsession for

  • detail.
  • continuous development of new and better products.

Apple is consistently voted the world’s most innovative company, because of the highly creative people he recruited like the British head of his design team, Jonathan Ive .


6. Tough and aggressive


  • aggressively pursued his objectives.
  • created an environment where excellence was expected.
  • was brutally honest and unafraid to constructively criticize, tell people off, or even fire them.

“You always have to keep pushing to innovate”, he said.

In the early 1980’s “being Steved” meant being fired, whilst riding in the elevator with Jobs!

Employees were often intimidated by his aggression, but they never lost their great respect for him.

He told the iPod team that the first prototype was too big and dropped it in a fish tank, so that the escaping bubbles would prove him right!Steve Jobs Leadership

His lifeblood was face to face communication , particularly

  • random discussions and spontaneous meetings.
  • inspirational speeches (in his black top and blue jeans, pictured right) - see point 7.


7. Motivator and communicator

He inspired people to work hard through his

  • charismatic leadership
  • perfectionist quality standards
  • refusal to take no for an answer.
  • communication skills (particularly face to face) Steve Jobs Leadership

He was a great salesman and public speaker, being witty, informative, inspiring and informal.

In 1983 he famously asked, Pepsi’s John Sculley (pictured right together in 1985) :

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

Jobs, later said that hiring Sculley was one of his biggest mistakes, because Sculley was more interested in profits than products, forcing Jobs to leave Apple.


8. Love of work

He was happy and successful, because he loved his work and doing new things.

For example, his dismissal from Apple freed him to be creative elsewhere.

The price of his success was that he didn 't know his children as much as he would have liked.

He asked Walter Isaacson to write his biography, because:

“I want my kids to know me”.


The best book on Steve Jobs is... 

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (2011)


Key quotes on customer satisfaction

Customers must find what they love


Key quotes on market research

A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research

None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want. (responding to whether he did market research for the iPad)


Key quotes on motivation

The only way to do great work is to love what you do.

We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That's what has driven me.


Key quotes on creativity and innovation

Don’t be trapped by dogma which is the result of other people’s thinking.

Let’s go invent tomorrow rather than worrying about what happened yesterday.

I’m a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity and out of curiosity comes everything.

The people that really create the things that change this industry are both the thinker and doer in one person.

Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have...It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.

We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.

You always have to keep pushing to innovate


Key quotes on success

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life

I would trade all my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.

Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful … that's what matters to me.

Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.


Key quotes on business success

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. The products, not the profits, were the motivation.

About half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.

We’re always trying to do better.

Great things in business are never done by one person, they're done by a team of people.


Key quote on design

“Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works”.


Key quote on quality

Quality is more important than quantity.


Key quote on interviewing and selection

You can't know enough in a one-hour interview. So, in the end, it's ultimately based on your gut. How do I feel about this person? What are they like when they're challenged? Why are they here?


Key quote on death

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.


Key quote on technology

I like the intersection of the humanities and technology

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