The first part of this essay has already been published. In this second part, Professor Mobley continues her discussion on Jobs' leadership qualities.
The second key trait Jobs (photo credit: Matthew Yohe) used as a leader that served him well was passion. Throughout his career, it was Jobs’ passion to create products that lived up to the highest standards—indeed products that he wanted to use himself—that drove him to lead others to create products that exceeded most people’s imaginations.
Someone with passion has a deep commitment to something, and is willing to make great sacrifices to achieve it. When it came to Steve Jobs, he displayed an enormous passion for creating great products for Apple (and for NeXT), and great movies for Pixar; however, this passion often eluded him when it came to people. While consistently passionate about the products he helped create and the companies he formed, Jobs was inconsistent when it came to his passion for the people in his life. He rejected his daughter, Lisa, at first and even denied that she was his for several years. Jobs is quoted as saying simply, “I didn’t want to be a father, so I wasn’t” (Isaacson 271). Later, when he found out his fiancée Laurene Powell (his future wife) was pregnant with his child, he vacillated between going through with the marriage or getting back together with his ex-girlfriend, Tina. Although he did eventually marry Laurene and settled down into a happy marriage that lasted until Jobs’ death, he continued to treat people poorly at times, including his own children. His ability to be passionate about products and companies unfortunately did not always translate into an ability to care as deeply about the people he loved, or the people he led.
When it came to leading Apple and creating great products, though, Jobs’ passion served him exceedingly well. In a commencement speech Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005, he tells the story about how after he dropped out of Reed College, he was free to “drop in” on classes he found interesting. This led him to a class in calligraphy where he learned about typefaces and what makes great typography. He later used this knowledge when creating the fonts on the original Macintosh and remarked in his Stanford speech that “much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on” (Jobs, “You’ve Got to Find What You Love”). He translated his passion for artistry into his passion for technology, a formula that would serve him well again and again.
Jobs also experienced great passion for the work itself. In her eulogy at Jobs’ funeral in 2011, his biological sister Mona Simpson explained that “Steve worked at what he loved. He worked really hard. Every day. That’s incredibly simple, but true” (Simpson, “A Sister’s Eulogy”). Even at the end of his life, when Jobs knew his time was limited, he began new projects and “elicited promises from his friends at Apple to finish them” (Simpson). In his own words, Jobs described his passion for work by explaining in his Stanford speech that “the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
A key reason both Apple and Pixar were so successful was Jobs’ consuming passion for the work itself, and his willingness to do almost anything necessary to make things happen. While his passionate pursuit of perfection was not always cost effective to the firm, such as when he insisted on perfect square corners for the NeXT computer, or the exact blue shade of imported Italian tile for the floor of the signature Apple store in New York, he was relentless in his drive to make products live up to what he imagined they could be.
A final note on Jobs’ passion has to include a discussion about the discrepancy between his love for products and his often lack of love for people. While he did stay lovingly married to Laurene until his death and was also close to his children, he was well known for his capacity for cruelty as well, and for belittling others at work and at home. Ultimately, his passion for technology and artistry did propel him to enormous success throughout his career, but he was not able to achieve the same level of passion and love for people; as a result, not everyone was willing to follow him, regardless of his intelligence or obvious passion for excellence. In conclusion, Jobs’ ability to display such passion and love for products, but not for people, did damage his abilities as a leader. One can only speculate how much more effective he might have been had he been kinder and more nurturing to others, and less self-centered. Ultimately, though, he still achieved amazing success as a leader, flawed though he was.
As the story of Steve Jobs illustrates, an individual can be successful in leading an organization with the right combination of traits and leadership skills, even if he or she is considerably lacking in key areas. Jobs displayed amazing creativity, imagination and passion, and these were exactly the traits needed to create a string of successful products, designed for the mass market, but also designed with the highest degree of detail and beauty. Jobs’ lack of other key leadership traits, such as humility, altruism or citizenship did damage his ability to gain others’ trust and foster relationships, but he was still able to successfully help build one of the world’s most valuable companies, despite these flaws. Having the right mix of leadership traits for the task at hand is what’s ultimately required for success, and Jobs’ creativity, imagination and passion served him exceedingly well.
What are your thoughts on Jobs leadership style? Is he someone to emulate? Share your thoughts in the comments.