The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs

14 key leadership behaviours that brought Steve Jobs success

I am not sure if you agree with this, but there is an argument to say that in his lifetime Steve Jobs is someone who has made a huge impact on the world. For me, he has also had quite an impact personally in terms of his leadership and how he went about his business to change the world as we knew it. One of his most memorable speeches is of course his commencement address at Stamford University in 2005, a moment that encapsulated everything about great leadership – focus, keeping things simple, gravitas, fewer better words, true emotion and inspiration, to name a few.

With this in mind and conscious of the ever growing superbrand that is Apple, I thought the new year postings could be about what Jobs had to offer us in terms of learnings, what were his key principles and rules of life that brought him so much success and impact? One man who knows Jobs better than most is Walter Isaacson (his biographer) who compiled exactly that, the fourteen key rules, beliefs and behaviours of Jobs, that he lived his life and lead his businesses by. These were ‘The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs’ and pivotal to what Jobs achieved and the impact he had on the world.

And it was a massive impact, from starting Apple in his parents garage in 1979 to his death in 2011, by which time he had built the world’s most valuable company having been both ousted from it and rescuing it back from bankruptcy! In his lifetime Jobs transformed seven industries – personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail and digital publishing. However many critics of Jobs focus on the harder edges of his personality and how harsh he sometimes was with people, but as he points out ‘look at the results, we achieved some amazing things and they were all smart people who could have got a top job elsewhere if they really felt brutalised’.

The truth is, Jobs personality was integral to the way he did business. He acted as though there was no norm and the usual rules did not apply, he was intense (influenced by a strong commitment to Zen and its teachings), passionate and carried extreme emotionalism. He was also petulant and impatient driven by his appetite and desire for perfection. If you read Richard Branson’s book ‘Losing my virginity’, there lies another entrepreneur whose success actually has not been driven by money but by passion, the multi-billion dollar companies that he is behind have been born out of a passion and a certain way of doing business and the cash rewards have been a bi-product.

So, back to Jobs’ real leadership lessons and here we go with a series of postings that cover all fourteen, the number 1 lesson being:

1. FOCUS.

When Jobs returned in 1997 to Apple in order to rescue it from near bankruptcy he found himself in a product meeting.  At that meeting he was surprised by the amount of ideas and products that were being worked on and found the whole thing completely overwhelming. He stepped in and told everyone to just stop there and then. He took a pen and on the nearest whiteboard drew a four quadrant matrix, in the horizontal headings he wrote the words ‘consumer’ and ‘pro’ and in the vertical ‘desktop’ and ‘portable’. To stunned silence his instruction to the team was to go away and invent one amazing product for each quadrant and that was it – pure, simple and focused.  This saved Apple and encapsulated Jobs’ belief that deciding what not to do is as important as what to do.

Another habit of focus that Jobs had was to take one hundred of his exec team to an annual retreat. At every event towards its conclusion (again at the whiteboard) he asked one focused question: ‘What are the 10 things we should be doing next?’  Ten options were captured, Jobs discarded the seven that he felt were less important and hey presto presented the three that as a team they had time to focus on over the next year. This natural ability for focus was engrained by Jobs training in Zen, he was so focused that often he would exasperate his own family, ignoring the things that others felt were important yet for him were only distractions – lawyers, arranging insurance and so on.

One day, despite Google and Apple feuding, Jobs offered Larry Page a bit of advice with regard to Google – ‘don’t be a Microsoft and churn out products that are adequate but not great… What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest because they are dragging you down.’ Having had that conversation off went Larry in January 2012 with a message to his team that they were to focus on just a few products, Android and Google + being two of them.

The importance of focus when it comes to leading others is reiterated in Bruch and Ghoshal’s study ‘Beware the busy manager’. They studied twelve companies over a ten year period and took the time to understand what sort of management behaviours were showing themselves over an extended period of time and what results these behaviours brought. The conclusion of the study was that generally over a period of time, managers sat in one of four boxes: busyness and distraction, procrastination, disengagement or purposefulness. All of these four behaviours were themselves pivotal to the combination and presence of two key ingredients, energy and focus.

Next time we look at the second real leadership lesson of Steve Jobs…simplify.

 

 

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