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The Leadership Style of Steve Jobs

The Leadership Style of Steve Jobs

Mar 7, 2011

When Steve Jobs returned in 1997 to the company that he co-founded, many doubted whether Apple could ever reclaim the industry leading status it once had. All of the romance and magic was gone from Apple’s lineup of Macintosh computers, which had disintegrated into a hodgepodge of confusing names and model numbers. However, a series of key business decisions helped return Apple to the public eye and to profitability, and today Apple — measured in terms of market capitalization — is one of the largest companies in the world. Steve Jobs deserves much of the credit for this, and in interviews and public appearances throughout the years, Jobs has done much to explain the business philosophy that has made his management of Apple so successful. These are the eight rules that you should follow to duplicate Steve Jobs’ success in business.

A Business Needs a Great Product

“My philosophy is that everything starts with a great product.” — “Newsweek,” 1985

Everything in business comes down to the product. You might have everything else lined up for your business — great people, a great domain name, memorable logos and slogans, but if you don’t have a product with real “wow” factor, stop putting money into your business until you do. It is never too late to do things right.

Tablet Touch Screen MacBook

A convertible MacBook would never have had the iPad's success.

Customers Do Not Know What the Next Big Thing Is

“Customers can’t tell you about the next breakthrough.” — “Newsweek,” 1985

Customers don’t know what the next big thing is, because it hasn’t been released. As a follower, the most that your company can achieve is second best. When customers wanted a convertible MacBook, Apple was busy creating the iPad. It blindsided the industry and created a brand new product category. Apple has a 90-percent share of the tablet market, and everyone else is playing catch-up. Henry Ford said, “If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” — “Triumph of the Nerds,” 1996

In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Some point to Apple’s appropriation of the graphical user interface pioneered at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) as evidence of this, but what he was actually referring to was the fact that the members of the Macintosh team came from all walks of life. They were painters, musicians and scientists, and each had unique life experiences that could be reframed and added to a unique product. Of course, getting a hand from Xerox PARC didn’t hurt Apple, either.

Design Products, Not Concepts

“Real artists ship.” — Attributed to Steve Jobs by Andy Hertzfeld and Steven Levy

Apple doesn’t spend a lot of its time or money designing flashy concept products, because it is wasted effort — no one ever has the opportunity to buy a concept. Xerox PARC invented the graphical user interface. They could have been the next IBM, Microsoft and Apple rolled into one, but they aren’t. Why? Because they didn’t ship. At the end of the day, your genius idea will get your company nowhere if you can’t put it into a real product.

Kill Good Ideas and Nurture Great Ones

“[Focus] means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” — “Fortune,” 2008

The Apple Newton was one of the world’s first PDAs. It was an excellent product for many applications, and there are still Newton owners out there who love their devices to this day. However, Steve Jobs shut the Newton division down shortly after returning to Apple. It was a good idea, but Apple had plenty of good ideas and was failing. Steve Jobs wanted to concentrate on the few great ideas that could bring the company forward. Ex-members of the Newton team went on to design the software for the iPod, which became a massively successful product. Had Apple continued to develop the Newton line, there may never have been an iPod.

Be Passionate About Your Work

“The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.” Stanford University commencement address, 2005

Steve Jobs is almost universally thought of as one of the most inspiring and charismatic business figures in history. Every person in a leadership role wants to be charismatic, and the first step in becoming a charismatic leader is to be enthusiastic about what you do. Real — not forced — enthusiasm is tangible, and transfers naturally to others, who cannot help but become more enthusiastic themselves. This leads to a more synergistic team.

Expect the Best from Your People

“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.” — “Fortune,” 2008

If you manage with the goal of becoming your subordinates’ friend, they will take advantage of you and will not perform to their full potential. Steve Jobs has a legendary temperament as a manager, sometimes to the point of inspiring fear among his employees. He demands that his employees do great things, and will make them do exactly that. Although not every manager can get away with Jobs’ storied tantrums, you would do well to take a page from his book and set yourself apart from your employees. Be their leader — not their buddy — and establish excellence as the only acceptable result.

Great Design is a Complete Package

“[Design is] not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — “The New York Times,” 2003

Do you remember what it felt like to use an iPod for the first time? The iPod wasn’t the world’s first MP3 player — it was just the first to combine great looks with an interface that you knew how to use as soon as you picked it up. It just worked. Ten years later, no company has a legitimate answer for the iPod. When designing a product, remember that a flashy appearance is just one part of what needs to be a cohesive whole. There is no aspect of a product that is too small to do right.