I never had the opportunity to meet Steve Jobs, nor work for him.  I knew him only through industry periodicals, some conferences in which he spoke and through Apple’s products.  And although I recently read the book ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson, I would not consider myself someone that knew him.  However, like my study of historical figures, I am someone that is trying to learn something from him. 

All people are given talents, strengths and weaknesses.  As I study historical figures, I look to see how they spent their time developing their talents, magnifying their strengths and discovering whether they worked on developing their own weaknesses into strengths.  I especially like to look closely on how they did that, how they treated people and how much they gave credit to the team that supported them ‘along their journey’ to success.   

So, back to the question:  Was Steve’s leadership style directly linked to Apple’s success and would their products have been as successful without this particular approach?

The definition of servant-based leadership from Wikipedia:  Servant-leaders achieve results for their organizations by giving priority attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve. Servant-leaders are often seen as humble stewards of their organization's resources: human, financial and physical.

To understand Steve’s approach I learned from Walter’s book which gave a 360 degree view of Steve as it took information from family, people that worked for him, some that worked with him, some that negotiated with him, some that competed with him, some that did business with him and partners.  (I highly recommend reading the book as my summary does not do the book justice).

The author, purposely, and with Steve’s agreement, as well as his request, wrote the book without the direction of Steve.  This provided the insights from the eyes of others on who Steve really was-not Steve’s biased memory of himself.  The outcome produced a definite theme to the impressions he left on those who were close to him.  All acknowledge his great intellect, his determination, his creativity, as well as his lack of empathy, his view that he actually knew what was best for the users of his products and his rare concern about other’s feelings. 

Steve was demanding and in his mind, since he knew what was always best he allowed that view to drive a general lack of respect towards the opinions of others.  The way he expressed that difference of opinion was very vocal (often yelling) and often profane which left the individual demoralized or extremely defensive.  There was no middle ground.  He felt the best way to separate ‘A’ and ‘B’ players was his particular approach.  And then when you have true ‘A’ players the way to get the most innovation and quality work out of them was to not just put them in a pressure situations, but verbally abuse them and make examples out of them when they did things he didn’t feel were acceptable.  He pushed too many to breaking points and burned them out.  A number of incredible people walked away from things they loved to do and lucrative payoffs because they couldn’t take his approach. 

Does a person have to yell, use profane language, threaten or treat people in a condescending fashion to help others reach their true potential?

The leadership provided by Steve, as CEO, was his ability to provide true product focus.  Not just with the innovation but also with the true governance required by the CEO.  Controlling the resources of the company to focus on a few key lines of products and saying no when they had too many good ideas.  Not allowing the company to spread talent and resources too thin across too many lines of products that may even overlap with each other.  Another key aspect of Steve was his discipline around quality.  He was willing to push a date when something wasn’t right.  Too many allow the pressure of outside influences force them to ignore quality and move ahead and fix it later.  Steve demonstrated that on multiple occasions, where he had the backbone to stop and redo now and force delays.

You need to be firm, you need to be driven, you need to make quality a priority and you must hold people accountable to be successful.  Holding people accountable, means that you sometimes need to tell people that they lost their job-even though they might be a good friend.  But you need this discipline for the greater good of the company, the community and to each individual employee.  The how is the differentiator.  You must consider yourself a servant and must be committed to the benefits of those you serve.

You can inspire people in a multitude of ways.  There is never just one way when it comes to style or approach.  And when someone demands that their way is the only way what they are demonstrating is their fear or lack of willingness to “sacrifice what they are for what they could become” (variation of a quote from Charles Dubois).

I believe Apple had (and still has) many talented individuals and that there is no one person responsible for the success of Apple products. 

Steve was a great man—but he could have been greater in the eyes of the people that knew him best had he realized the long term joy that comes from inspiring people by uplifting them and prioritizing the people he served in addition to the products he developed ‘along his journey’.

That's mMy .02.

 


Comments

Dwight Pond
01/08/2012 06:17

Gary - great post and question. This is one I have asked repreatedly as I watch successful coaches yell, scream, intimidate - wondering if that is what it takes to achieve excellence. Even the legendary Vince Lombardi told his coaching assistants that if they put family in front of coaching they couldn't work for him. Whether Steve J could have created the company he did with a different approach, we will never know. But I remain unconvinced that effective leadership requires demeaning, isolating behaviors. Here's hoping that his brillance can be seen through a different leadership model.

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02/11/2016 03:45

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I think it's the best way for a business or any organization to be prosperous. Employees need to be treated as important. They have to realize that the roles they play in the business is significant for achieving success. I think the CEO should be conscious of this fact. He has to resonate successfully with his employees, making them feel important and connecting with them with sincerity.

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