iJerk: Steve Jobs and Effective Leadership

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David Kramer’s article on leadership provides several insights on different qualities that aid in being an effective leader who can lead his/her team to greatness. He posits that, to be a good leader, it requires myriad talents, some of which are learned, some of which are innate. Charisma, for instance, is a more innate talent, since it’s based on one’s ability to “rally the troops” in order to get the team to perform effectively. If a leader is unable to inspire their underlings to perform at their optimal capacity, then that leader’s own effectiveness should be called into question. Although Kramer argues that personalized leadership is a type of charisma, I prefer to see it as tailoring commands and directions to the specific needs of people on the team. Sure, it takes a certain level of charisma to be a strong leader but making sure that the needs of your team members are met on an individual level requires intuitiveness rather than the ability to be inspiring or a well-regarded figurehead. Though, as far as leadership behaviors go, the ability to perceive the team’s needs is also quite important. When leaders are considerate towards their teams, it helps foster an environment where team members are more likely to come to the leader with problems or issues than in a workplace where the leader is feared. However, as Kramer explains, it can be difficult for leaders who are more considerate to effectively initiate structure for their employees.

When discussing leadership styles, Kramer expands upon several different aspects of how a leader can choose to conduct their business. His first contention is that leaders are either autocratic or participative. Autocratic leaders are assertive, tending to use themselves and their own efforts as an example for the rest of their employees to strive towards. Participative leaders, by contrast, work side-by-side with their employees to obtain a consensus on what to do next instead of giving them orders about the next steps to take. Kramer does not make a strong case for either as more effective than the other but does bring up the importance of a good leader’s entrepreneurial spirit. Since entrepreneurs tend to seek out opportunities and engage in risk-taking behavior in the name of getting a bigger payoff from the results of their quickly made decisions, their employees are more likely to perceive them as true trailblazers. Kramer then discusses what it takes to be a transformational leader: a boss who is just as concerned about the company’s fiscal success as they are with making sure that it can change with the times and remain relevant. By using a combination of humanity and vision to bring about sweeping positive change to a company, a transformational leader is able to both maintain a company’s reputation while also improving the at-work lives of its employees. Finally, Kramer, channeling Andrew DuBrin, points out the two types of motives leaders have for seeking power: personalized ones, and socialized ones. Personalized motives are typically seen in leaders seeking material gains from their power and position, while socialized motives can be found in leaders who want to use their role in service of others. It’s a simple me vs. they dynamic.

Kramer closes his article out by exploring a variety of character traits that are present in effective leaders. Self-confidence, a leader’s ability to have a good opinion of themselves and their decisions, is one of the most important. If a leader doesn’t believe in their own ideas, then how can they be expected to convince the members of their team that those ideas are worth executing? Humility is also a fine quality for a strong leader to have, since if a leader is able to be modest about their accomplishments, they are better equipped to be well-liked by their employees instead of being feared, or worse, loathed. The ability of a leader to be trustworthy goes hand-in-hand with their ability to be humble. If a leader can’t be trusted by their employees to perform tasks in a timely manner, provide them with proper guidance, or put in the same effort they are expected to provide, then that leader won’t be able to get the positive attention and feedback from their team that they need in order to effectively lead. People want to help someone they like and trust, not a snake in the grass. This can also be seen in leaders who exhibit the trait of authenticity. Leaders who are authentic can see the writing on the wall and don’t try to give their employees the runaround when it comes to praise or criticism. Authentic leaders can treat their staff the way that they’d want to be treated, promoting a more open work environment. Being an extrovert also tends to help leaders be more effective, since a heightened ability to socialize and express one’s ideas makes it easier for leaders to convey what they want to their followers. Assertiveness is also an essential quality for leaders to have, since if a leader cannot aggressively go after what they want, they may be perceived as weak, leading their employees to believe that their leader can’t stick up for their ideas – or for them. Finally, Kramer points out that a good leader has a certain level of enthusiasm for their work. A strong leader should be able to enjoy their work and broadcast their happiness to their employees, thereby increasing the chances that the employees will appreciate the work they’re doing better since they see that their leader is happy doing the work as well.

Steve Jobs was not by any means a model leader, especially in deference to the qualities DuBrin describes as essential to be a good, strong leader. While Jobs did possess some of them, such as ambition, enthusiasm and self-confidence, he also embodied several negative qualities, such as being rude, coarse, and secretive. Yet, despite this dichotomy, Jobs can still be considered an effective leader, especially looking at the qualities Kramer analyzes him with piece by piece.

Steve Jobs exuded charisma. As described in Walter Isaacson’s biography of the man, Jobs was able to charm pretty much anyone who came into his path. Apple employees and Jobs acolytes often speak of a “reality distortion field” that followed Jobs around like an aura, enabling him to convince both skeptics and devoted fans that his way was the right way. This incredibly personalized leadership is evident when analyzing the way Jobs handled products. Jobs’ genius lay in the ability to foresee what consumers needed before they realized they needed it, though his pursuit of what he perceived as ideal often required him to turn up the charm in the face of  doubt. In Guy Kawasaki’s article, he makes multiple references to the fact that Jobs would frequently ignore the advice of others and see his vision through to the end, showcasing the lack of restraint that Kramer argues is a hallmark of personalized leadership. Jobs’ leadership behaviors further Kawasaki and Isaacson’s claims. He often acted without consideration for the views of his employees, forcing them to work for hours or days at a time without breaks to churn out the latest prototypes, all built to his exact specifications lest the employee wanted to be berated – publicly – for their incompetence. His willingness to cut the crap and be straightforward with his employees regarding their progress or their productivity wound up being a huge boon to the companies he oversaw, particularly at Apple.

As far as Jobs’ leadership style is concerned, he utilized a more autocratic approach in most of his everyday dealings. At both Apple and Pixar, Jobs had his fingers in a lot of pies. He wanted to be sure that, at any given time, he would be able to know what was going on so that he could have better control over the production process. While he did at times use the ideas of others, it is unwise to consider Jobs a participative leader, since he would attribute any new idea to himself, no matter who it came from. It is obvious that Jobs is strongly entrepreneurial. His boundless enthusiasm for technology and a positive user experience combined with his willingness to take risks on what others perceive as foolish bets have enabled him over the years to make smart decisions that, in hindsight, are decisions tech CEOs worldwide wish they had made. Jobs’ entrepreneurial spirit truly helped craft the future of technology. His ability to transform companies is similarly well-documented, cementing Jobs’ role as a transformational leader. Jobs was consistently able to rescue companies from the brink of failure. Pixar went from a struggling hardware manufacturer to a multiple-Academy-Award-winning animation studio that Disney felt was enough of an asset to buy out. Apple started from nothing, revolutionized the computer industry with the introduction of Macintosh, and after Jobs was re-hired as CEO following his ouster in the mid-eighties, he was able to turn the struggling computer company into the most powerful tech company in the world through development of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, mastering consumer devices that other companies had tried and failed to create for years. Although Kramer states that Jobs lacked several qualities of a true transformational leader, his ability to capitalize on what people needed next rather than what they wanted now was essential in making Apple the brand it is today. When assessing Jobs’ motives viewed through the lenses DuBrin provides, it is more obvious that he didn’t want power so that he could become a tyrant, although he at times acted tyrannically. Rather, Jobs valued the user experience more than almost anything else. He wanted to make sure that his products were a joy to use, a mindset that helps prove Jobs’ trend toward socialized power motives rather than personal ones.

In Jim Collins’ Good to Great, he makes the case that in order to be a Level 5 leader, a person must have both a professional will and personal humility. While Jobs was not both willful and humble in equal measure, or even for the majority of his time in positions of power, he did exhibit tendencies of being a Level 5 leader many times throughout his career.

Jobs’ lifelong devotion to creating quality, user-friendly products is an obvious benchmark of his ability to be a Level 5 leader. Bill Taylor rightfully claims in his article that Jobs helped transform not just the computer industry, but also the music, mobile phone, and film industries as well. Jobs would not have been able to transform these industries if he was unable to help formulate products like the iPod, iPhone, iMac, and Toy Story. His drive to make superb results and increase the happiness and well-being of the people who used his products is wholly a characteristic of achieving Level 5 status.

Jobs’ tendency to hand-pick teammates and successors is another Level 5 characteristic. Through fostering professional relationships with people like Jony Ive, John Lasseter, and Tim Cook, Jobs was able to ensure that his vision would live on after he vacated his post. Isaacson even tells a story of a young man who, after being rejected for a job minutes earlier by Jobs, wowed him in the lobby with a demonstration of what would eventually become a signature iPhone feature – inertia-based scrolling – and was hired on the spot. Jobs always chose people who he saw as “A players” to carry out his vision, and this pickiness surely is part of the reason that Apple continues to be successful.

Jobs’ choice to channel almost all of his energy into the company, while ultimately detrimental to his health, is also a defining personal characteristic that also lines up with qualities evident in a Level 5 leader. As Isaacson explains, even when battling pancreatic cancer, Jobs covered up his illness in order to take on the active role at Apple he was used to being in. While this decision hampered his personal life, his sacrifice in the name of improving the company and creating better products signifies some of the humility that he rarely showed, an important Level 5 quality.

Jobs’ 1997 decision to partner with Microsoft in developing versions of their flagship software products – Internet Explorer, Word, and Excel, to name a few – is a marker of another Level 5 characteristic Jobs possessed: the resolve to do what must be done in order to produce good long-term results. Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates had a contentious public relationship for most of their respective careers, but Jobs knew that working together with Gates was a mutually beneficial move. As part of the partnership, he also secured an investment from Gates that helped Apple stock experience a magnificent turnaround that helped save the company from the brink of collapse. Although some Apple devotees considered his actions nearly treasonous, Jobs was merely trying to fill gaps with product that he knew worked.

While Jobs didn’t often admit that he was wrong, he knew when it was right to do so. Isaacson relays an anecdote from Ron Johnson, Apple’s former VP of Retail Operations, involving the inception of the Apple Store. For months, Johnson and Jobs designed their prototype store to highlight the product lines they were known for: iBook, iMac, PowerBook, and PowerMac. Yet, when Johnson brought it up to Jobs that they should also market their products based on the activities you can do on them; an iMovie station where customers learn how they can use Macs to edit a home movie, an iPhoto station where customers can see how easy it is to upload and catalog their photos. Jobs initially balked at the idea, erupting with rage at the prospect of having to change the design around at the last minute, but by the time they met with the store’s design team, Jobs had seen the light. He told the team Johnson was right, and although they had to delay their planned rollout of the store by a few months, Jobs was able to look out the window instead of in the mirror and see that someone else had come up with a good idea. Though he did things like this infrequently, he still exhibited this crucial quality of Level 5 leadership.

References

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: why some companies make the leap and others don't. New York: HarperBusiness.

Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kawasaki, G. (2011, October 8). What I learned from Steve Jobs. Holy Kaw! Retrieved from http://holykaw.alltop.com/what-i-learned-from-steve-jobs

Kramer, D. (2010, February 15). Leadership behaviors and attitudes of Steve Jobs. DavidKramer.DK. Retrieved from http://davidkramer.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/leadership-behaviours-and-attitudes-of-steve-jobs/

Steve Jobs. (2011). Biography.com. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/steve-jobs-9354805

Taylor, B. (2009, June 23). Decoding Steve Jobs: trust the art, not the artist. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/2009/06/decoding-steve-jobs-trust-the/