Steve Jobs was a master, a creative genius and one of the world's best salesmen, but Apple would not be where it is today were it not for his intense and sometimes polarizing management style. He could be particularly blunt and cruel with people, especially to "bozos" who he thought didn't know what they were doing, but Jobs' raw attitude was a reflection of his passion towards products.
Jobs was not a perfect man, or a perfect CEO, but there was no denying his success as a leader. He took Apple Computer from a garage project to a multi-million dollar company with the Apple II and the Macintosh. After he was ousted from his own company in 1985, Jobs turned around two companies that 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 so much to learn from Steve Jobs, especially on the first anniversary of his death. Jobs, who was adopted by two very humble parents after being abandoned as a baby, was an incredibly intelligent, pointed, emotional, and sometimes otherworldly figure. His cruelties aside, Jobs knew how to manage people and get the best out of them. Replicating his style would require hard work, long hours and a specific vision, but you don't need a black turtleneck and jeans to be a master of your lifestyle like Steve Jobs.
1. Be passionate.
Leading 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.
Current and former Apple employees will always remember Jobs, for better or for worse. In an interview with Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson, former engineer Andy Hertzfield recalled his first meeting with Steve.
“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 as a younger man, 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 told Isaacson. “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. Demand excellence from yourself and others.
When Steve Jobs was just a boy, his adopted father Paul, a lover of cars and mechanics, taught his son how to focus on craftsmanship on anything he built. The most important lesson, according to Jobs, was to give the backs of cabinets and fences the same attention that the fronts were given.
"He loved doing things right," Jobs told Isaacson. "He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn't see."
From that point on, Jobs focused on doing everything the right way -- a perfectionist trait he later expected from every single person he hired at Apple. Steve Jobs didn't want "great" employees; he only wanted the very best of the best. He knew great products couldn't come out of less-than-great workers.
In 1984, Apple had released the Macintosh and Lisa computers 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. Once Jobs was given the reins of the Lisa team, he decided to combine the two teams and 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 brutal, his message was reasonable. The difference between the best companies and everyone else is that the most successful 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 simply not last at a top-tier company, and to make things worse, they'll let other employees think that anything less than perfect is acceptable. Jobs solution: Demand excellence, and cut employees who don't get the picture. It keeps 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 explained to Isaacson. “The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can't indulge B players.”
3. Be honest, even if it hurts.
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. Rally others 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.'”
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."