10 Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

Just like there will never be another Socrates, Wayne Gretzky, Winston Churchill, or Ghandi, there will never be another Steve Jobs. While we can never become Steve Jobs, nor should we strive to be (follow your heart). What we can do is understand what is the greatness of Steve Jobs and, where applicable, apply these principals to help us develop as leaders.

Simplify

Steve Jobs demanded that the iPod not have any buttons on it; including an on/off switch. This seemed implausibility for the engineers working on the project, but Jobs wouldn’t bend. The engineers were pushed to their limits and as a result the scroll wheel was inspired. Jobs indicates “that’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

The power of “NO”

Jobs is just as proud of the many products he killed over the years as the ones that were monumental successes. At one point he worked hard on a device similar to the Palm Pilot, but appropriately killed it to focus on the cell phone market. What resulted was the iPod and iPhone.

Money is overvalued

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t’ matter to me…Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful..that’s what matters to me.”

Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it. [Fortune, November 9, 1998]

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it

Jobs keynotes and product launches spellbound audiences. The missing “it” factor is palpable when he’s not on stage.

Not all products under Jobs were the most cutting edge on the market, however consumers perceived them to be. Part of this was Jobs overzealous demand of secrecy around products. This secrecy helped feed consumers desires for the product once they were revealed.

That is the critical point – perception becomes reality. Part of Jobs success was based on the notion that “Your customers dream of a happier and better life. Don’t move products. Instead, enrich lives.”

Recognize Good Ideas

Jobs and Apple did not create the computer mouse, podcasting or the touch screen, but they recognized their value and integrated these innovations into their products.

Shun the Majority

Jobs actions epitomized the mantra of if the majority was always right than we’d all be rich. Like Henry Ford before him who indicated “If I asked the public what they wanted they would say a faster horse,” Jobs typically eschewed focus groups and gave the public what he thought they needed. This worked the majority of the time, when it didn’t it was a chance for him to fail forward into the next project taking the lessons with him.

“Here’s to the crazy one, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Eat Your Own Lunch

There is a saying in Silicon Valley that you need to eat your own lunch before someone else does.  Jobs had the conviction to do this with the introduction of the iPhone, knowing full well it would and did cannibalize the sales of the flagship iPod. Letting go of the familiar and embracing the unknown is a real test of leadership.

Strive for perfection

The night before the opening of the first Apple store, jobs didn’t like the look of the tiles so he had them all ripped up and replaced. Right before the iPod launch job also had all the headphone jacks replaced so that they were more “clicky.”

Small Teams

Jobs didn’t want his iPhone team to be muddle with pre-conceived notions around the cell phone market and had the team placed in a separate building. While this rubbed some employees the wrong way for not being selected, the results are irrefutable.

The original Macintosh team had 100 members. Whenever it reached 101 members they would have to reshuffle and remove someone from the team. Jobs belief was that he could only remember 100 names. [Source: Leaner Kahney, The 10 Commandments of Steve,” Newsweek, page 35, September, 2011]

Follow Your Heart

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Jobs truly lead a life of following his heart.

About the Author: Erik Qualman

Often called a Digital Dale Carnegie and The Tony Robbins of Tech, Erik Qualman is a #1 Best Selling Author and Motivational Keynote Speaker that has spoken in 49 countries.

His Socialnomics work has been featured on 60 Minutes to the Wall Street Journal and used by the National Guard to NASA. His book Digital Leader propelled him to be voted the 2nd Most Likeable Author in the World behind Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling. Qualman is a sitting professor at Harvard & MIT's edX labs.

His latest book What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube is a Pulitzer Prize nominated work.
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