The Top Ten Leadership Lessons Of Steve Jobs


It is quite ironic that the first Leadership lesson from such a reputedly abrasive man is Empathy. Steve Jobs may not have empathised well on the face of it with his employees, but he did recognise a passion within then that needed to be fulfilled. Moreover, he had an acute empathy with his Customers. He could understand what they wanted and what frustrated them before they could even articulate it.

Do you really understand what your Customers want or are you stuck in to a habit of providing what you think they should to want?

  1. FOCUS

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he found a company with a dazzling array of products with various different versions. He drew on a white board a square with four quadrants (for four different market segments) and asked the room to focus just four great products and to scrap the rest. The initial reaction was stunned silence. Think how many pet projects were being canned in on go! The results though, speak for themselves.

Thereafter he took to the habit of taking his Top 100 employees on retreat each year in order to decide the top three things which they should be doing in the year ahead. Brutal, but astonishingly effective. Does your business have clarity of thinking married to complete resolve to deliver only excellent products and services to your Customers?


 Jobs believed in getting the detail right and knew that we all pick up on a whole host of signals which we don’t necessarily consciously register. When he launched the iMac, a pretty bulky piece of kit, he put a handle on the top of it. It was a desktop machine, so people weren’t really going to be carrying it around much, but the message it sent was significant. The machine was built for the user’s needs. It was “friendly”, subservient even to user themselves.

What messages do you send with you reception area? Your email signatures? The Way your staff dress or answer the phone? Your packaging? etc. (How does it feel to unwrap a new iPhone?!!)


Jobs philosophy was that in order to simplify, you have to understand the complexity of what you are doing in minute detail. “It takes a lot of hard work” he said “to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.” Jobs would slave away to eliminate the need for screws or buttons on his products. He jumped ahead of every PC and tablet maker on the planet by eliminating the Off Button from the IPad.

Are you master of your own detail , or do you have someone close to you who is? Can you simplify process or your product/service itself to make it more elegant and user-friendly to the end user?


Jobs’ mantra of “Don’t Compromise” led to his ousting of Apple first time around in 1983. Not all of us have the luxury of living such a philosophy and staying in business. However Jobs returned to win a fairly comprehensive victory and his approach of thinking of what the Customer wants and thus protecting and enhancing future income streams ahead of immediate margins is one that we can all apply.

He believed that placing product/service ahead of immediate profit affected everything; from the people hired, to the motivation levels within the organisation and the loyalty of the Customer base. What can you do to enhance your product and service to make the Customer love what you do? (And thus come back for more!)


Jobs was pretty petulant and intolerant will everyone around him, but he was exceptionally careful about who he hired and he knew that the best people would in his industry would care more about the end product than the abuse en route. I wouldn’t suggest thicker skinned people better employees or that Jobs man management skills should be emulated, but it is true that a continual focus on recruiting and retaining the right kind of people is probably the most important thing you can do.

Is recruitment and motivation of the right kind of people always top of your To Do list?


People often take a pride in business in claiming to be a “Big Picture” Person or “good with the detail”. They say one with the implication that the other is non-Strategic and thus stupid, or is less complicated and thus stupid.

Jobs’ genius was to apply his mastery of the Bigger Picture the tiniest detail and vice versa. Are you a fan of “Helicopter Vision”, and if so what could you learn from the detail? Do you rush to delight in the detail and if so what could you learn from taking a step back? Don’t take a pride in being at one end of a normal curve; business requires an ability to visit both these days.


Given the nature of the products Apple make you might be forgiven for thinking that Jobs favoured virtual meetings and on-line communication. In fact he believed exactly the opposite. He designed the Pixar building to create impromptu meetings between colleagues who would not otherwise naturally meet and he loved face-to-face meetings with freewheeling ideas, despising PowerPoint as a “blanket to hide behind” rather than discussing things through.

He also took the opportunity to get out and meet people face to face at every opportunity. Who would you really benefit from seeing today? This week? This month?


Jobs would imagine the Customer using his product and would take responsibility for their entire experience. “People are busy” he said, “They have other things to do than think about how to integrate their computers and devises.” For apple this meant creating devices that spoke to each other seamlessly and “sync’d” with little or no effort. It meant creating his own store design when retails didn’t get what he was saying. And it meant getting involved in everything from the packaging to the logistics.

If a Supplier couldn’t provide him with what he wanted he would find another. If they couldn’t he would set up his own. Are there weak spots in the Service your Customer receives which you currently deem to be out of your control? Can you change and improve them?


This was one of Jobs’ favourite sayings. He did have quite a “colourful” hippy background! I’m not sure I like the idea of staying foolish, but Jobs was clear that it was entirely possible (perhaps in necessary) to combine extreme professionalism with a light touch and a sense of fun.   Do you squash creativity in yourself and in others with the desire to be seen as professional? If so park the formality at the door and see if a slightly more human approach could get more from you and your team. It worked pretty well for Steve Jobs!


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