The Leadership Legacy of Steve Jobs
“Out, out, brief candle…” William Shakespeare’s, Macbeth
The news of Steve Jobs passing was like a hot branding iron, forged amidst the fire of creativity and ingenuity of the Silicon Valley at the turn of the 21st century. True to the brand he forged, the simple, yet elegant pose captured on the home page of Apple’s website, shortly after he passed, is a watermark for one of the greatest eras of progress in world history. Scribed on the image are the years 1955 and 2011, separated by a dash that perhaps, should be more aptly welded together by a bright flame that helped light a social change rivaled only the likes of The Ancient Greeks, The Renaissance, The Enlightenment, The Founding of the United States of America, and The Industrial Revolution.
The three characteristics of Steve Jobs leadership qualities that will most vividly exemplify his legacy are reveled in his vision for emerging technologies, his ability to collaborate with other great leaders, and his insatiable appetite for excellence.
Steve Jobs was first and foremost a visionary, once saying he wanted to, “put a ding in the Universe.” In 1983, Steve Jobs famously lured John Sculley away from Pepsi-Cola to serve as Apple’s CEO, asking, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
It is spell binding to reflect on the vision Jobs and his team at Apple had back in the early 80’s. The release of the iPhone 4S, just one day before his passing, quietly introduced Siri, an application that allows voice dialogue with your iPhone—a vision first reveled nearly 25 years ago in a video released internally at Apple. The narrative told the story of a man interacting with a technologically advanced device, using touch screen features, video conferencing, cyber-links, and voice interaction. The projected time of the story being told in the video was during the fall of 2011—exactly the time Apple would introduce the culmination of all of these technological advances in one device, just before losing the man that willed them into being.
Jobs is listed as either primary inventor or co-inventor in 338 U.S. patents or patent applications related to a range of technologies from actual computer and portable devices to user interfaces (including touch-based technologies).
More than his inventions, Jobs reminds us that great leaders don’t just announce a vision, but they live the vision—even as they pass through the shadows of death.
Of course Jobs did not make this vision come to fruition all on his own—Apple itself is a company full of bright and brilliant individual contributors, complete with a world-class leadership team. Early on, Jobs reached out to others who had the skills needed to make his vision come to life, overseeing the development of the first Apple computers, to the resurrection and reinvention of Apple through iMacs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads.
“This is not a one-man show. What’s reinvigorating this company is two things: One, there’s a lot of really talented people in this company who listened to the world tell them they were losers for a couple of years, and some of them were on the verge of starting to believe it themselves. But they’re not losers. What they didn’t have was a good set of coaches, a good plan. A good senior management team. But they have that now.” [BusinessWeek, May 25, 1998]
From his relationships with Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak, businessman Ross Perot, and filmmakers George Lucas and John Lasseter, Steve Jobs surrounded himself with brilliant people in every endeavor from Apple, NeXt, to Pixar—a leadership trait that attracted other radically creative thinkers throughout these organizations who weren’t afraid to push the edge of the status quo.
The Pursuer of Excellence
Steve Jobs insisteance upon excellence in design, detail, finish, quality, ease of use, and even the delivery of products are at the core of Apple’s success. His passion for excellence was seen by many as a strength, and others, as an egotistical absurdity that, at times, damaged his ability to effectively collaborate with others.
“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
Great leaders pursue excellence and demand it in their collaboration with others—not just in the concept, but also in the production, and ultimately the delivery. They thread excellence throughout the entire creative, technical, and delivery process.
The Leadership Legacy
While the news was not completely unexpected, it was no less sobering to endure the reality of genius that has just gone, “out, out….”
It would be easy to immortalize Steve Jobs as a prophet of epic proportions, or demonize him as imperialistic tyrant—a polarizing figure, as most revolutionaries are—but it would be a tragedy to ignore some of the lessons that Jobs’ legacy leaves with us. His achievements and larger- than- life personality will remain a smoldering remnant of his bright efforts that will surely resonate and inspire for generations to come.