Try as we might to find the secrets of leadership, there is no perfect method when it comes to managing a team. There are tips, tricks and best practices, of course. But we simply can’t plan for everything.
A large part of being a great leader comes with the anticipation of unexpected problems and a willingness to tackle them. But really, what it all boils down to is people skills and innovation. The fluid mindset of a leader is far more important than any rigid practices or principles.
But what qualities make a truly good leader? Well, if it’s answers we’re looking for, what better mentor to turn to than the pioneer of the world’s most successful company, Apple.
Apple is nothing short of an industry-defining feat of entrepreneurship, spearheaded by one man and his compelling leadership style. That man? Steve Jobs.
In this article, we’ll be running through some of the ways in which Steve Jobs has earned his title as one of the modern world’s greatest leaders and exactly how we can put his methods into practice.
What Made Steve Jobs Such a Great Leader
Steve Jobs’ overall approach to leadership can be summarised by the eloquent words of Richard Branson in his article for The Telegraph,
His creative awareness, his ‘meticulous eye for detail’, was clearly a driving force in Apple’s success. What made Apple such a distinct brand amidst a world of fast-growing tech companies was its simplicity – a brainchild of Jobs and his artistic flair.
Jobs wasn’t just known for his artistic perfectionism, though. More than that, he was a man of his people, a hard worker by heart and a creative who fell deeply in love with his work. He was an entrepreneur that would go on to inspire generations of businesspeople long after his death.
But what else made Jobs such a deeply respected, entrepreneurial maverick? Let’s take a closer look.
1. He Was Reluctant to Delegate
In his article, Branson goes onto explain Jobs’ leadership style and its contrast to his own. See, unlike Branson, Jobs was reluctant to delegate. He wanted to be interwoven in every tiny fibre that formed the backbone of his company, driving it forward and remaining at the forefront of every new venture.
The thing is, as CEOs and corporate leaders, we’re forced to wear many different hats in business. There’s the responsibility to conjure up new ideas, market our products or services and myriad different jobs that must be undertaken.
As a business grows alongside these responsibilities and demands more and more work, delegating tasks to others becomes an ever-tantalising prospect. With so many balls to juggle, enlisting the help of other staff members to take the load off our back seems like a tempting offer.
For Jobs, delegation wasn’t an option. Of course, it was necessary to a degree, as with any large-scale company requiring an expansive workforce. But even with the groundbreaking advances that Apple has seen since its birthday in 1976, Jobs remained as ingrained in his company as he possibly could right from the get-go.
As he said himself,
Of course, delegating jobs to others in your company is important. But whether you’re a CEO, CIO or manager, don’t forget that you’re being paid to work, too. Delegation is sometimes necessary, but you have a job to do. Put in as much work as you personally can before forking responsibilities onto other peoples’ plates.
The world’s most successful leaders are also the most hard-working people in history. There’s no escaping the grindstone. Jobs didn’t, and that’s one of the many things that made him such a roaring success.
2. Jobs Knew That Creativity is Just ‘Connecting Things’
Call it imposter syndrome, but this premise still renders true. Creatives often consider their inventions to be obvious, but few see life through the same lens as them. Some of the greatest innovations in history come from this exact principle: combining one idea with another to spawn a novel creation.
With the iPhone, for instance, Jobs took his love for calligraphy and design and amalgamated it with his passion for technology. What followed was the first tech company to place such a meticulous focus on design and aesthetics. And that became Apple’s USP.
How can this principle be extrapolated and utilised in the workplace, though? Well, often it just requires us to take a step back.
Innovation is the act of making changes in something that’s already been established. In other words, it’s taking an idea and making it better, introducing new methods in order to ameliorate an existing product or service. But how can we see room for improvement without stepping back and looking at the bigger picture?
Take Airbnb, for instance. The idea of online property rental is nothing new. But combining that idea with an attractive user interface, easy-to-use platform and internal rating system? Revolutionary.
Whether we’re looking to start up an entirely new company or launch new products under the umbrella of an existing brand, it all comes back to the same principle. Every innovative idea takes a problem and provides a solution.
For Apple, that problem was that tech was ugly. It was bulky and unattractive. Jobs took the idea of a computer and made it better. Sexier. Different.
He combined two ideas, solved a need and revolutionised an entire industry.
Every great business solves a key problem for its consumer base, and solving problems is often a case of simply marrying together two ideas to create something unique.
Either take an idea that’s working and make it better, or amalgamate two novel concepts into the creation of something the world hasn’t yet seen. That’s the key to success in business.
3. He Found the Balance Between Empowering His Staff and Leading by Example
As a leader, it’s vital that you can walk the walk and talk to talk.
That is, it’s no good taking a backseat and watching your staff members slave away, conjuring up new ideas all by themselves. No, instead you should be prepared to get your hands dirty from time to time.
That’s something that Jobs did incredibly well. He knew how to innovate personally and wasn’t too afraid (or lazy) to do so.
There has to be balance within a company, however. A CEO or leader can’t be expected to perform every role that needs filling. Jobs was a master at both leading by example and empowering and inspiring his staff to complete tasks on their own. He became a role model for his workforce by demonstrating characteristics he wished to see them display, like his meticulous attention to detail..
See, every good company has a mission statement. But every great company has a workforce built up by individuals that know that mission statement by heart and use their every working hour to drive it forward.
By remaining an integral part of Apple from start to finish, regularly dropping in to check up on his staff members and chipping in with new ideas, Jobs enabled that mission statement to permeate across all employees of his workforce.
His passion inspired those beneath him to work hard to fulfil the company’s goal. And that’s the key to great leadership.
Whether your company is just starting out or is already employing hundreds of staff members, it’s vital that all representatives of your company know your mission statement. Keeping them informed will help to maintain morale and empower your clients.
Furthermore, as a leader, you should seek to remain as closely tied-in with your company as you can. Avoid running things from afar if you wish to keep your workforce engaged and inspired. Instead, nurture relationships with valued staff members and ensure to stay present throughout the growth and development of your business.
At Idea Drop, we firmly believe that senior leaders should endeavour to remain active participants in the innovation process by suggesting ideas, providing feedback and essentially leading by example. It is the best way to motivate and empower your staff to keep coming up with brilliant ideas with impact.
Want to learn more about what leaders must do in order to drive innovation and realise the full potential of their business? Download this white paper!
4. Jobs Kept the Creatives Away From the Critics
This quote sheds light on one of the key systems that Jobs employed when tasking his teams with a new project. As he believed, creation requires multiple steps – namely, ideation, explication and critical analysis. And while each step is vital, the three should be performed separately and by different teams.
Fill a room with creatives and critics, for instance, and the critics will only incense the creatives to the detriment of their innovative progress by offering negative feedback. Without retrospective feedback from critics, however, it’s easy for creatives to miss the mark and fail to meet company objectives. Both are necessary, but the two should be kept separate throughout the creative process.
This principle can be applied across entire companies, too. It’s best to leave specialists to keep going with that which they’re experts in. To enable ideas to flourish, you need to create different spaces in which subteams can thrive without being discouraged by others.
Often, separation is the best way to enable each team to produce their best work.
If you leave creatives in the same room as critics, feedback will only stifle productivity and innovation. Instead, keep the creatives away from the critics and enable your teams to thrive by keeping them in close-knit, goal-focused environments.
If you’re struggling to separate subteams in the ways described above, consider using Idea Drop. Within our idea management software interface, users are easily able to share ideas and challenges with specific groups, individuals or departments.
5. As Jobs Said, Sometimes, Innovation is About Subtraction
When Jobs first became interim CEO of Apple in 1997, the company was busy manufacturing more than 350 different products. Within a flash, Jobs cut that number down to 10.
Why? Because Apple’s new CEO believed that many of these products had become redundant, outdated and were too expensive to justify the production of. Apple’s output was streamlined dramatically because Jobs believed that Apple would be far better off focusing on just a handful of ventures rather than hundreds.
As a result, Jobs’ teams were able to master the ten products they now focused on, at the core of which were a consumer laptop and desktop as well as a laptop and desktop designed for professionals.
True to Apple’s mission statement, these products remained incredibly minimalistic and simple. With more free time on their hands, product design teams were able to focus their efforts intently on technology and design.
Born from this renewed focus was the ever-famous iMac, and the quality of Apple’s products was able to excel far past their previous standards.
Moreover, it’s crucial that creative teams seek to generate as many ideas as possible. Why? Because the more ideas a company has, the better able they are to handpick the best amongst them.
If Apple only had twenty products to play with in 1997 and Jobs stripped back 90% of them, they’d be left with two. That wouldn’t have given them much wiggle room. With more ideas comes the ability to get really choosy about what makes it through the review process, and therefore the overall quality of products will improve.
How do you come up with these ideas? Well, to start, try involving your whole workforce in the idea generation process rather than just your executive team. That way, you’ll have many more options and are more likely to find novel concepts that other team members may not have considered.
Sometimes, innovation is about saying no to the things that don’t matter in order to free up space for those that do. Indeed, introducing more products to a company’s lineup may generate revenue, but what’s better for the longevity of a business: an extensive range of average products or a handful of supreme-quality, innovative and state of the art offerings?
Jobs, of course, knew that the answer is always the latter.
6. Jobs Was Unwaveringly Passionate About His Company
If there’s one thing that was certain about Steve Jobs, it was his unwavering passion for his Apple-shaped brainchild. Even during his long battle against pancreatic cancer, Job’s love for his company followed him all the way to the grave.
The truth is, unless you enjoy what you’re doing, it simply won’t work out. There will be times when you have to put in long, exhausting hours into the growth of your business. At others, you’ll be forced to endure crushing lows and setbacks that would cause most to turn and run for the hills. The only thing that will enable you to push through these bleak times is a passion for what you do. Money, or the absence thereof, will not suffice.
There were several times when Apple nearly went under completely. In fact, some of the biggest lawsuits filed against the technological behemoth neared $1 trillion. If Jobs didn’t feel truly passionate about the business he’d created, would he have endured these downfalls, or would he have given up and sold his shares?
The answer is obvious. Setting up a business for profit alone will never work out. As soon as the money waterfall begins to run dry, you’ll have nothing to sustain your efforts. Because if money is the sole driver behind your efforts, why would you continue if you’re not earning any?
As Jobs said himself,
When running a business, it’s crucial that you remain passionate about the work you produce. If not, you simply won’t be prepared to withstand the low points that’ll inevitably come, and your company will only come crumbling down sooner or later.
7. He Wasn’t Afraid to Think Differently
Jobs prided himself on being different, on rebelling against the status quo. His aversion to social norms and willingness to step outside the box was perhaps one of the key factors that made him such a world-renowned leader and innovator.
In a 1997 marketing campaign for Apple, entitled ‘Think Different’, Jobs wrote the following,
Amidst a world of conformists, there’s a lot to be said for thinking differently. After all, that’s the core principle of innovation: to provide something new that hasn’t been seen before.
Unless you’re thinking differently, how can you expect to drive sales, scale your business or motivate your members of staff? You can’t.
Five Factors That Made Apple Stand Out Amongst the Crowd
Everything Apple has achieved historically rests upon this same principle – taking uniqueness and enabling it to drive innovation.
That being said, let’s take a look at five of the key factors that make Apple so distinctive and, in turn, profitable:
- Diverse range of products.
Since the late 1970s (and Jobs’ efforts to strip things back down to basics), Apple has released a range of stylish new products. Apple’s attractive user interfaces across all of its devices is instantly recognisable, their minimalistic, sleek feel unmatched by any other company.
- A dynamic business model.
Another key factor in Apple’s tremendous success is its incredibly dynamic business model. Jobs knew the market very well and, as a result, felt comfortable with the regular adjustment of Apple’s trajectory. As it grew, Apple continued to expand its offerings to its customer base. What began as a computer company is now a multi-faceted technological powerhouse. As the landscape changed, so did Apple.
From its products to its software and even in-store customer experience, everything about Apple is tied to its unmistakable brand. Their unique trademark has enabled the company to stand out from its birth in 1976 right through to today.
- Willingness to partner.
In 1997, Apple did something relatively unheard of in the world of business. It partnered with the company’s biggest rival, Microsoft, securing a $150,000,000 deal to bring Microsoft Office to the Mac. As Jobs said himself, ‘We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose,’ an attitude that few entrepreneurs are prepared to adopt and one that enabled Apple to stand out. Think differently.
- Creating employment opportunities.
Over the years, Apple has been known for its efforts to create a number of different employment opportunities across the globe. Entering the tech market in Asia and Africa, Apple created new job openings for app developers as well as musicians, historians and artists. Overall, Apple has created approximately 2 million jobs worldwide.
When you’re embarking upon any new venture or idea, thinking outside of the box is essential to success. Apple has long been renowned for its willingness to subvert technological norms and pave new paths in the digital landscape.
After all, unless you have anything new to offer, what’s the point in leading a company?
When looking at the range of different ways in which Apple has revolutionised the technological industry, one thing becomes clear. Without Steve Jobs and his ability to create a culture of innovation, few of these great achievements would have been possible.
From his willingness to think outside of the box to his deep passion for his company, few CEOs can compare to the technological maverick that was Jobs. Through his efforts and teachings, we can all learn an incredible amount about innovation from the very man that transformed the entire landscape of digital technology.
Let’s finish with a quote from Jobs that summarises his approach to innovation.