5 Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

This post is by Lior Levin.

Whether you loved Steve Jobs or hated him, whether you are a Mac or a PC user, whether you are an iPhone or an Android owner, there is one thing that there’s little doubt about: Steve Jobs was an amazing leader who expected and got the most out of those who worked for him.

With his recent passing and the release of his biography, other leaders have gotten a chance to take a closer look at how Steve Jobs lived, thought, and ran his company. It’s an interesting opportunity to look at the inner workings of one of the tech world’s most private men.

So what lessons can leaders glean from Steve Jobs? There are too many to choose but here are five of the critical lessons one can learn from Steve Jobs’ life and success.

1. Have strong opinions, just not always your own

Jobs was not known as a man who held weak opinions. He was quick to make decisions and strong in them. He didn’t waffle or waiver, nor did he delegate his decision-making process to others.

Jobs realized that, with most decisions, making no decision was as bad as, if not worse than, making the wrong one. He also knew that having one person at the wheel helped maintain a unified vision and direction.

However, this doesn’t mean he never changed his mind—just that his reversals were equally decisive and strong. Jobs always encouraged others to challenge his viewpoints and, when he was wrong, would change position and hold to his new one just as strongly.

2. Openness hurts sometimes

Few would have described Steve Jobs as a “nice guy.” He was known for being brutally honest and saying what was on his mind. He even once quipped, “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”

Never one for pleasantries or sparing feelings, Jobs was legendarily tough to work for. However, his approach not only pushed people to generate great results, it ensured that the message was never muffled or muddled.

Being clear, concise, and direct sometimes doesn’t leave a lot of room for spared feelings. While it doesn’t mean being needlessly cruel, it means recognizing that emotions tend to heal faster than broken projects.

3. Focus, focus, and focus

According to Walter Isaacson, the author of Jobs’ biography, focus was very important to this man, who limited his company to focusing on two or three things at a time.

Jobs recognized that it’s much better to do one thing well than to do dozens of things poorly. The more you spread your focus, the less attention you can pay to each item and the more often crucial details begin to slip by.

Jobs once famously said that “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” a philosophy evidenced by Apple’s iPhone and iPad lines, and the limited versions and differences between them.

4. Working in teams means talking

Jobs loved working in teams and loved meetings, but he hated PowerPoint and Keynote presentations. He felt that meetings should be about conversation and dialog, not passive listening.

Jobs felt that, in general, teams, especially large groups, made the best decisions and developed the best products—but only if they were leveraged correctly. This is why he favored demo units and other physical objects for visual aids rather than slides on a screen, as Jobs felt these tools got people more engaged.

According to Jobs, the purpose of a meeting was to “Get people talking about it (the idea), argue with people about it, get ideas moving among that group of 100 people … and just explore things.”

5. Planning succession

Jobs, especially in his later years, realized he would not be running the company forever and had to make plans for Apple to live on after he left.

However, he focused on succession not just by planning for the company after his departure, but focusing on ensuring that he hired the best executives possible. Those executives were then groomed and trained so they were able to take over after his departure.

“My job is to make the whole executive team good enough to be successors, so that’s what I try to do,” Jobs said.

If you put your loyalty to your company above all else, you’ll hire people that are the best for it and they can take over after you leave. That, in turn, is the best succession plan of all.

In the end, Jobs was a man driven by his own mortality, long before he was ill. He reminded himself of his mortality so he could focus his energy doing the things that mattered, instead of worrying about failure or the expectations of others.

He was driven and dedicated almost to the point of insanity, and that, combined with his attention to detail and obsession with perfection, enabled him to drive Apple not only to become the powerhouse it is, but also to make some of the best-loved products on the market.

Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs is proof that one person can make a huge difference and impact the entire world in a very big way. Who do you feel has had a similarly large impact on the leaders around the world? Let us know in the comments.

This guest post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing consultant for a company that offers the  best psd to xhtml service, and who also works for a neon sign store that provides custom made neon and LED signs.

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  1. Noch Noch says:

    i’ve started reading his book too. focus is the key. once i decided on a focus for my life, it seems so much easier, all these seemingly difficult decisions…
    Noch Noch

  2. I like you the way you have summarised some of the amazing qualities of Steve jobs in this post, Lior. He certainly was an inspiration to a generation. I’ve almost finished the biography and it is fascinating reading.

    While I don’t entirely agree with his slash-and-burn approach to dealing with people, and it’s pretty clear that he had a strong narcissistic character style, his ability to create a vision and inspire other people to come on board is a lesson to us all.

    He reminds us to think big and never accept mediocre as good enough.

  3. Dan Male says:

    I know one of the former software developers for the ipod, who worked a few levels underneath Steve, and he described Mr. Jobs to me in exactly the same way as you are doing here. I guess it’s about time to start reading his biography…

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