Was Steve Jobs an Effective Leader?

By Mark Kardon, Member, Executive Leadership Alliance International

Much has been written about Steve Jobs’ leadership style. Walter Isaacson, author of the recent bestseller, “Steve Jobs”, spent more than two years speaking with fellow co-workers, bosses, friends and family to understand his style. He provides insights into Jobs’ greatness and shortcomings. My perspective on Steve’s leadership effectiveness follows.

How does one measure leadership effectiveness? Is it based on driving revenue performance, improving profitability, active community involvement, introducing innovative new products, creating a culture for a great place to work or someone with a vision you want to follow? I think it is a combination of all these skills and attributes. However, effective leaders have a vision for where they want to go and work tirelessly to pursue their dream. Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs all believed in their vision and would not take no for an answer. Their single minded focus has led to some of the greatest product developments of our time.

Steve Jobs’ leadership effectiveness certainly can be viewed as less than stellar on many levels. He wanted things done his way, no exceptions. Anything less than that was not acceptable. He publicly berated employees, had temper tantrums and raised his voice (yelled). It was difficult to meet his expectations. Steve was exceptional at manipulating people, making promises he did not always keep and placed his passion for perfection above his own family. Clearly, he never would have won father of year or the best boss award.

However, from my perspective as a marketer, Steve Jobs’ leadership was brilliant. His drive and unrelenting pursuit to provide consumers with the absolute best product remains unmatched. He believed the journey was the reward, always pushing to achieve the impossible. Through his vision and tenacity, he created a product consumers never even realized they needed or wanted with the introduction of the original Mac computer. Later, the introductions of the iPod, iPhone and iPad all offered consumers game changing innovative new products. His methods and style are not for the faint of heart. He only wanted the absolute best talent on his team. If you didn’t measure up he was not shy about telling you. To his credit, he did recognize talent. If he wanted you to be part of team, he was very charming, motivational and persuading.

Steve Jobs’ leadership style probably only works for the type of genius unique to him. Most leadership gurus would not consider his style role model caliber. The difference, it worked for him because he never wavered on his vision to offer great products and constantly innovate. It was never about the money, fame or title. It was about the product. Jobs stated “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do”. He never believed in market research. He was a free spirit who used his talents to motivate a team to reach for the stars and not accept anything less. Was Steve Jobs an effective leader? His legacy of current and future products being developed by the team he selected will be the best answer to this question.

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