Steve Jobs – Again or Still?

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Hard to believe, but Steve Jobs has been gone for four years.  But he’s really not gone.  His influence on leadership, technology, innovation and just plain being cool continues.  Other effective CEOs have gone onto the big boardroom in the sky in recent years but there is not much talk about them.  I don’t think Steve wrote any books about leadership or innovation or how to build a great company.  The books are written about Steve Jobs, not by him.  His speeches were all about Apple products, not how to be an entrepreneur.  He was private about his personal life.  No big philanthropic monument has been named in his memory.  What is the fascination?

For sure, part of the fascination is about Apple.  A cool company building cool products that was founded by a cool guy who made black mock turtlenecks cool.  We use all the stuff that he envisioned.  I’m not sure even that is enough to justify the continued fascination.

With Steve Jobs there is no doubt that there was brilliance and visionary leadership.  He never settled for any thing “normal”, but at what price to those around him?  Steve created an equation for those around him.  The numerator was brilliance; the denominator was a sometimes jerk who was incredibly tough on people.  It was an equation that those around him were generally ready to accept.  The new and acclaimed “Steve Jobs” movie is the catalyst for more discussion about the brilliant and impervious Steve.

The equation was also explored in a recent panel discussion that featured all the women who worked with Steve on the Macintosh launch.  Titled “Limitless Leadership:  Lessons Learned from the Powerful Women Who Worked with Steve Jobs”, the panel included marketing guru Andy Cunningham and early Apple employees Barbara Koalkin Barza, Susan Barnes, Debi Coleman, and Joanna Hoffman.   Legendary tech reporter Katie Hafner moderated the panel.  The consensus?   Sure, Steve was tough to work with but it was worth it to be around such a brilliant star changing the world.  The women had no regrets, never threw Steve under the “abusive” bus and looked back on the time spent working with him as a highlight of their respective careers.

As I listened to this set of distinguished women it was clear that their opinions about Steve were deeply held.   The women outlined their individual experiences with Steve but there was much that was implied and lessons for all leaders…

  • Helping Steve achieve his impossible goals was worth enduring any tough treatment. Who can argue with the goal of  “change the world?”
  • He was egalitarian in his tough treatment. Steve didn’t care who you were or what your background was, he just wanted results.
  • His attention to detail was not petty. It was about making a better company and a better product.
  • He was as tough on himself as those around him.
  • He knew that he was an important part of the product and the Company itself. The Apple brand was seen through Steve Jobs.
  • He got things done and the people around him were able to perform at an extraordinary level.
  • No one, at least on the panel, said, “they really liked him”.
  • When he died there were thousands of messages on post it notes on the windows of Apple Stores. The messages were about the gratitude for making the world better.

Steve Jobs continues to be a topic of conversation in leadership circles.  Other leaders are emerging that are like him, especially in the tech industry.  Maybe our concept of that equation of results over being tough is evolving.

Where do you see new Steve Jobs emerging?

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