Jobs was not a perfect person, or CEO, but there is no denying his success as a leader. He took Apple Computer from a garage project to a multimillion dollar company with the Apple II and the Macintosh. After he was ousted from Apple in 1985, Jobs turned around two companies, which were truly dead in the water, and revived them into some of the most successful brands we have today, including Pixar Animation Studios in 1995, and then Apple in 1997.
There is much to learn from Jobs, who was an incredibly intelligent, pointed, emotional, and sometimes otherworldly figure. His cruelties aside, Jobs knew how to manage people to get the best out of them. Replicating his management style requires hard work, long hours and a specific vision, but you don't need a black turtleneck and jeans to run a company like Steve Jobs.
1. Be passionate.
Leading a strong company requires a strong hand, but you must feel strongly about what you're doing. Being a leader isn't all about wearing the best suit at the office, or holding the corner office; it's about leading people to get the job done as best as possible.
Employees will always remember Jobs, for better or for worse.
Jobs appeared at the cubicle of Andy Hertzfeld, a young engineer on the Apple II team, wrote Walter Isaacson, Jobs' biographer. Hertzfeld recalled that most of his colleagues were afraid of Jobs 'because of his spontaneous temper tantrums and his proclivity to tell everyone exactly what he thought, which often wasn't very favorable.' But Hertzfeld was excited by him. 'Are you any good?' Jobs asked the moment he walked in. 'We only want really good people working on the Mac, and I'm not sure you're good enough.'
When he approached Hertzfeld later that afternoon, Jobs told the young employee to ditch everything he was working on to work on Jobs's next project, the Macintosh.
'What's more important than working on the Macintosh?' Jobs demanded... 'You're just wasting your time with that! Who cares about the Apple II? The Apple II will be dead in a few years. The Macintosh is the future of Apple, and you're going to start on it now!' With that, Jobs yanked out the power cord to Hertzfeld's Apple II, causing the code he was working on to vanish.
Jobs threw plenty of fits, especially in his first stint at Apple, but at other times, Jobs's softer emotions would shine through. In July 1997, shortly after he became Apple's interim CEO following Gil Amelio's ouster, Jobs met with creative advertiser Lee Clow to develop a new marketing campaign. Clow's presentation drove him to tears.
It was so clear that Lee loved Apple so much. Here was the best guy in advertising. And he hadn't pitched in ten years. Yet here he was, and he was pitching his heart out, because he loved Apple as much as we did, Jobs said. He and his team had come up with this brilliant idea, 'Think Different.' And it was ten times better than anything the other agencies showed. It choked me up, and it still makes me cry to think about it, both the fact that Lee cared so much and also how brilliant his 'Think Different' idea was.
Every once in a while, I find myself in the presence of purity -- purity of spirit and love -- and I always cry. It always just reaches in and grabs me. That was one of those moments. There was a purity about that I will never forget. I cried in my office as he was showing me the idea, and I still cry when I think about it.
2. Rally your team with enthusiasm.
One of Jobs's favorite maxims, which he repeatedly told his employees, was, The journey is the reward. When he ran the Macintosh division at Apple, he made his team feel chosen throughout the process.
The Mac team, he liked to emphasize, was a special corps with an exalted mission, Isaacson wrote. Someday they would all look back on their journey together and, forgetting or laughing off the painful moments, would regard it as a magical high point in their lives.
Jobs even hung a pirate flag outside the Mac building, which gave his team a sense of camaraderie and adventure.
Some of the grown-ups overseeing Apple worried that Jobs's buccaneer spirit was getting out of hand. But Jobs loved it, and he made sure [the flag] waved proudly all the way through to the completion of the Mac project, Isaacson wrote. 'We were the renegades, and we wanted people to know it,' [Jobs] recalled.
Jobs lavished his team with parties, treating his best employees with the most respect. He threw pool parties and picnics for his company to remind them how special they were.
'As every day passes, the work fifty people are doing here is going to send a giant ripple through the universe,' he said. 'I know I might be a little hard to get along with, but this is the most fun thing I've done in my life.'
3. Be honest.
Jobs had a tendency to praise his best A workers and diminish the work from less talented employees. Isaacson sums it up:
Another key aspect of Jobs's worldview was his binary way of categorizing things, he wrote. People were either 'enlightened' or 'an asshole.' Their work was either 'the best' or 'totally shitty.'
Jobs's brutal honesty stemmed from the need to protect Apple, his company and his baby. Even though he didn't run Apple until 1997, the charismatic co-founder never censored himself as he looked out for his company's best interests. In 1985, Jobs and John Sculley, Apple's then-CEO, engaged in a battle to oust the other from the company.
[Jobs] was never shy about indulging in brutal honesty. His eyes narrowed, and his fixed Sculley with his unblinking stare. 'I think you're bad for Apple, and I think you're the wrong person to run the company,' he replied, coldly and slowly. 'You really should leave this company. You don't know how to operate and you never have.'
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he demanded a complete overhaul of his Board of Directors.
Instead of declaring victory and thanking the board, Jobs continued to seethe at having to answer to a board he didn't respect. 'Stop the train, this isn't going to work,' [Jobs] told [Ed] Woolard, [an Apple board member and CEO of Dupont]. 'This company is in shambles, and I don't have time to wet-nurse the board. So I need all of you to resign. Or else I'm going to resign and not come back on Monday.'
Whether it was upper-level executives or junior-level employees, Jobs was unafraid to correct people on how to do their jobs. Like his own inventions, the company could ill-afford to have any weak links.
It was difficult working under Steve, because there was a great polarity between gods and shitheads, said Bill Atkinson, an original designer on the Macintosh. If you were a god, you were up on a pedestal and could do no wrong. Those of us who were considered to be gods, as I was, knew that we were actually mortal and made bad engineering decisions and farted like any other person, so we were always afraid that we would get knocked off our pedestal. The ones who were shitheads, who were brilliant engineers working very hard, felt there was no way they could get appreciated and rise above their status.
4. Demand excellence.
Jobs only wanted to work with the best of the best. He knew great products couldn't come out of less-than-great workers.
In 1984, Apple had the Macintosh and Lisa computers released around the same time, but only the Macintosh, which had been spearheaded by Jobs, was driving sales for the company, despite its engineering team being a fraction of Lisa's team size. He decided to combine the two teams, give the Macintosh group leaders top positions at Apple, and lay off a quarter of the Lisa staff.
'You guys failed, [Jobs] said, looking directly at those who had worked on the Lisa. You're a B team. B players. Too many people here are B or C players, so today we are releasing some of you to have the opportunity to work at our sister companies here in the valley.'
While Jobs's delivery was harsh, his message was true. The difference between the most successful companies and everyone else is that the best companies drive their employees to perform at their highest level. Employees that perform any less than their best, while they may be great people, will not last at a top-tier company. Demand excellence, and cut employees who don't get the picture. It'll keep employees focused on what's important: Making your product great.
It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players, Jobs said. The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can't indulge B players.
5. Stick to your vision.
Visualize your ideal company, from the staff to the building to the products you sell, and make it happen. Don't settle for anything less; making too many concessions will make you look feeble and powerless as a leader.
When it came to design and execution, Jobs was a perfectionist. He never wanted to build good products; he wanted insanely great products.
Jobs's father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen, Isaacson wrote. Jobs applied that to the layout of the circuit board inside the Apple II. He rejected the initial design because the lines were not straight enough... When the time came to tweak the design of the case, Jobs spent days agonizing over just how rounded the corners should be.
Leaders don't bend their will to others; if it's your company, you know what's best for it, and you know where to take it. In a retreat with the Mac team in September 1982, Jobs looked about 20 years into the future of his company.
He pulled out a device that was about the size of a desk diary. 'Do you want to see something neat?' When he flipped it open, it turned out to be a mock-up of a computer that could fit on your lap, with a keyboard and screen hinged together like a notebook. 'This is my dream of what we will be making in the mid-to late eighties,' he said.