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Leadership spotlight: Steve Jobs


Leadership methodologist Paul Bridle casts his eye over Apple CEO Steve Jobs' leadership style.

It is said that the Apple staff were summoned to an early morning meeting at HQ and the then CEO, Gilbert Amelio, came in and said, “it is time for me to go” and left the room.  Before anybody could gather their thoughts, Steve Jobs walked in and deposited himself in a swivel chair and while spinning the chair asked, “Tell me what is wrong with this place?”  Before anybody could say a word he answered his own question: “It’s the products. The products SUCK! There is no sex in them anymore”.

Steve Jobs is one of the most remarkable business people in modern history. This was a man that had been written off and even forced out of his own company. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computers, returned to Apple in a way that has never been seen in corporate history and the result was to put the company back on track. What made it so remarkable was that his approach was against the conventional wisdom of business.

"Jobs is known as a perfectionist and for not being satisfied with second best. He challenges and continues to challenge."

Interestingly Jobs did not take on being CEO until he had proved himself. He entered as Interim CEO and set about making the changes. Jobs selected a team that was right for the job. He replaced the whole Board except for one person, Fred Anderson, bringing in people that would add value and help drive Apple as well as challenge him in a positive way. These were people who knew the industry and could be passionate about Apple.

He took time to find out what was going on. He made difficult decisions. The company had so many products and projects that it was impossible to be effective. He did what most say would be suicide. He cut back to four products and focused on being the best at four rather than mediocre at forty.

"Steve Jobs is one of the most remarkable business people in modern history."

Jobs tackled difficult decisions from the start. Apple and Microsoft were in a long-running lawsuit and he went straight in to settle the dispute and get it out of the way. He plays to his strengths and delegates areas suited to other people’s strengths. He has an eye for detail. Jobs is known as a perfectionist and for not being satisfied with second best. He challenges and continues to challenge. Sometimes he fails but when it works, it brings the very best of what is possible.  As a result, design and image are a big part of the success of Apple. 

Finally, he understands the importance of relationships and the customer experience. Jobs pushes to ensure that the Apple products create an easy experience for the customer. His aim is to strip away the confusion and make everything simple for the consumer to use. This approach has widened the gap between Apple and its competitors and continues to do so. 

Whilst he recognises that relationships with the customer is vital, Steve Jobs quoted Henry Ford when he said, “If I had asked the customer what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. There is the difference between listening to the customer and then providing what the customer needs regardless of what the customer perceives they need. He has been very effective at putting himself in the consumer’s shoes but is not afraid to decide what the consumer actually needs or what is best for them. Business leaders would do well to learn from his leadership.

By Paul Bridle is a leadership methodologist, world renowned speaker and managing director of Bridle International

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