I am sure that in years to come, Steve Jobs will definitely be revered in a similar light to Princess Diana (14 years after her untimely death). The impact on our current lifestyle is plain for all to see. He set us in motion as consumers (and workers) to rely less on PCs and to become part of the Apple community. Of course, just like “Holden vs. Ford” in this part of the world, there are plenty of people who do not buy into the Apple fervour that some consumers show, but there would be no arguments even from those who use non-Apple gadgets that “there is something about Apple”. Where will Apple be in 5 to 10 years? The company in August briefly became the most valuable business in the entire world. Not bad for a company that in the mid 90s was only a few weeks from bankruptcy.
The answer to the question was Steve Jobs the best corporate leader ever will definitely be answered by 2015 and more than likely sooner. There are plenty of corporate examples of companies that started to fail once a strong leader moved on. Jack Welch did a great job at GE (General Electric) and then the company hit harder times. General Motors in America… Similar to the question how will Air NZ be post Rob Fyfe. How will Fonterra go now with change at the helm? It all comes back to how enduring is the leadership impact of such a powerful leader. The Apple team launched the iphone 4S and the feedback was it greatly lacked in the pizazz that usually accompanied such Apple product launch events.
So lets look at how good a leader was Steve Jobs. Obviously he was a great leader on the face of it. There were also some things that you would say where he did not meet the usual DNA of a great leader also. A great leader would probably be defined as someone who could get the team all heading in the same direction to an end goal, that they were all excited about. And they would have some fun along the way (so great job satisfaction across the team) and would learn from mistakes to become a better organisation. Ideally these “best practice leaders” would run an organisation that helped others in the team to become good leaders also. Ideally a great leader leaves a legacy. Mother Theresa is a great example of leaving a legacy. A little, seemingly “nobody” from India created an enduring impact on the world that is as strong today as it was when she died.
Where could you fault Steve Jobs as a leader (sorry Steve if you are looking down reading this!)? Firstly he was dictatorial. Classic leadership 101 advice is that you show your team what you want as the end result and then you let them go on their way to deliver what you want. Of course a good leader would ensure the team did not go to far off track and would remain across progress and help as necessary but Steve Jobs would tell his team what the end product was going to look like and also the exact steps of the way that would be followed to get there (he was a control freak). So I wonder how much empowerment there was of his team? Great leaders empower their team. Who knows why he was like this, as you would assume that he obviously had a highly competent team who could take his vision and with a little ongoing input from him, deliver his dream end product. His apparent issues with empowerment equal those of Henry T. Ford – his lack of empowerment was one reason that Ford almost went under pre the Second World War (great depression aside).
Secondly Steve Jobs apparently had a huge hot head on him so would get furious with staff. He was also known to reprimand individuals in public, so in front of others. This is a leadership no-no also. Successful leaders would say that they definitely pull their staff up when they do something wrong or do not follow the plan, but they would do it one on one and in a constructive manner. Not sure why Steve Jobs was like this, but that is one area of his leadership approach I would not recommend you follow.
Not knowing Steve Jobs beyond what is public about him, I am sure he had other leadership flaws also as no-one is perfect but there is so much to admire in what he achieved as a leader. Who would have thought that in 1996 when he returned to Apple after an 11 year hiatus that in August this year it would briefly become the most valuable company in the whole wide world! That is some turn around and one that has never happened before and in all reality is one that will never happen again.
So what can we learn from Steve Jobs as leaders? I am not going to comment on his personal family life so will leave that out of the equation. He did state recently that he had talked with his kids as to why he was an absent father. OK he had a lot of money but that could not save his life. Whilst he was enormously rich it does seem that money did not drive him. So that would be a tick for him as being a great leader – it is not done for the money (or the title), you lead to have some enduring aspect in your little part of the world.
He definitely learnt from his past mistakes. It is a proven fact that the best leaders have experienced failure in their lives. Steve got fired. Very few people actually get “really fired” – so whilst he was absolutely gutted he did not give up on his dreams (commitment is another huge factor in how successful leaders turn out to be). Certainly making mistakes is a big part of learning but we only want to make them once and not repeat them.
When he recruited key people, beyond the obvious need for competence, he focussed on ensuring most importantly that they cared a great deal about precisely the same things that mattered to him. So many leaders today in everyday business still do not put enough focus on getting their team right and are too hands off on key replacements or not thorough enough. So he had the right people on the bus (as author Jim Collins, in “Good to Great” famously coined). How right the choice of Apple people were in a post Steve Jobs era, we will see.
To get the right people at Apple, Steve Jobs knew exactly what the end goal was. He never wavered from this vision. So his strategic vision was second to none and he likely was right up there, if not the best with knowing what the vision was and getting the whole organisation to deliver upon this vision. Realistically who would have thought even 8 years ago that another IT company would become more powerful and valuable than Microsoft. Who is going to be the most powerful computer company in the world in 2019? It will be fascinating to see where the Apple strategic vision moves in the new era. I am sure there is a powerful blueprint left behind by Steve Jobs that the new team will be following and developing for the next few years…
Henry T. Ford famously said “a company that delivers exactly what the consumer wants and more, will only have one problem, what to do with all its profits!” Henry lived this virtue for a while in the early Model T Ford days and then lost his way in putting consumers first. This is something that Steve Jobs was revolutionary in as a leader and was his number one focus. He cared about customers and the potential customer. He followed the Henry T. Ford saying of “if I had asked people what they wanted in better transport, they would have said a faster horse and carriage”. Steve Jobs was so far ahead of us as consumers that he created whole new markets that never existed or had been thought about only a few years earlier. The reality of the normal leader (and their teams) is that they only give lip service to their customer, very counter-intuitive to how you run a successful business. Well-done Steve, completely legendary on this “be customer focused 24/7/365” front!
I had to laugh recently when I read they had discovered a couple of “knock-off” Apple stores somewhere in the big place that China is. I knew that some in China like to copy others to profit but then later I heard that they had found tens and tens of these fake Apple stores. It was pretty obvious that they were not real stores despite the synonymous look as the service standards were just like almost every other store you visit, so really very poor. Steve Jobs lived customer service in all that he did and the products, apps and “what-evers” that he and the Apple team created. Apple is now one of the pre-eminent retailers around the world and has taken off in retailing computers and personal related products, leaving the likes of Dell and others in the dirt.
Not all leaders need to be good at presenting and being on public show but it really does help. Who was the best presenter in the world? Steve Jobs. Thanks Steve, I have enjoyed learning from you and am sure that countless others have too. He could invoke religious spiritual feelings in consumerism; no small feat in today’s crowded marketplace and beyond the helpful fact of amazing products, his creative showmanship added the icing on the cake and took it to another level. You Tube his “1983 Apple key note” and you will see for 28 years ago, he so had it!
From military to community to business the best leaders in history use their initiative. Steve Jobs had this in spades. Every year he will have been presented with hundreds (if not thousands) of new ideas for products – I am assuming that he definitely would have signed off what ideas got off the ground. It takes a special sort of intuition to have had every Apple product of the last decade pretty much achieve legendary status and truly change the world. Steve not sure how big your brain must have been beyond rather massive, but if we could glean part of it somehow, every leader in the world would love part of your intuition skills.
So many positives in the camp of – was Steve Jobs the best corporate leader ever? My two cents worth is that he was the best corporate leader ever. I just wonder if he had have been less dictatorial and more empowering what the impact on Apple would have been? As much as it pains me to say it (as I totally believe in empowering your team to go ahead and deliver and for a leader to not meddle along the way, unless the team is off track) I think that Apple would not have been as successful as it has been if Steve Jobs had not been exactly the sort of leader he had been with lots of great leader characteristics and a few that you would not advocate. So to see if Steve Jobs is truly the best corporate leader ever (and perhaps forever) lets see what Apple becomes by 2015. This is where his leadership skills impact on the remaining inner sanctum of Apple will show through – a lot of pressure on Tim Cook and the team. My gut feel is that because Apple has become the number one fashion brand in the world (literally), if they can keep their brand coolness going and have continuing great product they will be looking very pretty to prove that Steve Jobs was indeed the most successful corporate leader even. And forever, as it is very doubtful that any other leader in the future will have the opportunity to turn a company that was so on the brink into the most valuable company in the world. Thanks for the teachings and leadership example Steve… You definitely achieved your stated life aim “to put a ding in the world”.
Confession, I quite like Apple products! Very glad they do not make clothes though, imagine seeing every third person walking down the street wearing the same shirt and dress!
David Scannell says
A well written piece. Could not agree more re Steve. His biography was the best book I read last year. Currently reading ‘Inside Apple’. The Apple story is quite incredible, although I too am biased and own many of their products.
Zac de Silva says
Hi David… yeah I am biased too. I must say I think more and more of Steve Jobs approach to business as the days go by albeit not keen on his public berating and humiliation… I like his approach to customer experience… Hope you are well…