Five Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

This is a guest post by Tor Constantino. He is a former journalist, has an MBA, and works in public relations where he has directly reported to several CEOs in his career. He lives near Washington, D.C. with his wife and two daughters. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Whether you’re a “Mac or PC,” the recent passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs at the age of fifty-six from pancreatic cancer provides a salient moment of reflection for any organizational leader.

Steve Jobs Introducing the new iPod - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/EdStock, Image #16850262

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/EdStock

Jobs’ legacy and impact on the world is likely to stretch far into the future compared to the brief thirty-five years of his professional career, which took seed in his family’s garage when the idea of Apple was planted with Stephen Wozniak in 1976.

Beyond his cultural and technological contributions, Jobs offers leadership lessons that can be gleaned from his own words. Below are five lessons from his quotes. They provide insight into the Steve Jobs’ “operating system” for life.

  1. The Risk Lesson. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” The very nature of innovation requires a stark departure from the status quo and deviation from the norm. The best leaders have the vision to understand that fact and the tenacity to lead an organization to that future state despite organizational inertia and resistance.

    Jobs did this time and again as evidenced by the introduction of the Macintosh home computer in 1984, his subsequent departure and return to the company, right up to the latest iteration of the iPhone.

  2. The Succession Lesson. “…Some people say, ‘Oh, God, if [Jobs] got run over by a bus, Apple would be in trouble.' And, you know, I think it wouldn’t be a party, but there are really capable people at Apple. My job is to make the whole executive team good enough to be successors, so that’s what I try to do.”

    Succession planning is one of the most important roles that senior leadership takes to ensure the long-term viability of an organization. The best companies and leaders strive to achieve this internally by ongoing talent assessment and pushing that planning below the executive level to ensure a funnel full of high potential individuals.

    Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook went through a similar grooming process since joining the company in 1998, collaborating with Jobs ever since in preparation to lead.

  3. The Mission Lesson. “Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

    Many leaders are more inclined to lead with their head or their gut instincts, rather than their heart. Such an emotive mission simply seems too soft and may even be considered a weakness to traditional, hard-nosed leadership sensibilities.

    However, Jobs’ illness forced him to live from his passion and creativity, which produced revolutionary product innovations, growth and profits for the organization.

  4. The Team Lesson. “So when a good idea comes, part of my job is to move it around, just see what different people think, get people talking about it, argue with people about it, get ideas moving among that group of 100 people, get different people together to explore different aspects of it quietly, and—just explore things.”

    In virtually every area of life, teams make better decisions than individuals. While Jobs had a reputation of being difficult to work for, he routinely admitted to only hiring senior executives who were competent, smart, and “loved” Apple—so that they would put the interests of the organization ahead of their individual interests.

    The company’s success, high employee retention and consistent recognition as one of “best places to work” are proof of his team-centric philosophy.

  5. The Perseverance Lesson. “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

    Jobs is often referred to as both a genius and modern-day Thomas Edison. Interestingly, Edison’s driving perseverance is exemplified in his famous quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.”

    Few would disagree that Jobs embodied Edison’s quote, and perseverance is a requisite skill of all effective leaders.

Not only did Jobs lead an extraordinary company, he led an extraordinary life—and we’re the better for it. If you’re not familiar with details of his background and intriguing upbringing, consider reading the new biography by Walter Isaacson. It is currently #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Question: How has Steve Jobs’ vision and technology impacted you personally or professionally? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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