One of the most influential business leaders of the last century is Steve Jobs. Jobs helped his technology firm Apple, Inc. rise to fame and outpace competitors through the duration of his tenure. He has been called a "business genius," and is on "a very short list of greatest American businessmen ever," (Nocera, 2011, p. 1). Biographer Isaacson (2012) places Steve Jobs in the same sentence as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney, deliberately choosing visionary leaders who were also controversial like Steve Jobs. Some of Steve Jobs's biographers point out that his business acumen extended far beyond the realm of technology. Steve Jobs "helped to transform seven industries: personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing," (Isaacson, 2012, p. 1). It can also be safely said that Jobs transformed the nature of media marketing, as the iTunes model has established a firm precedent for the fusion of digital media and the recording industries.
Jobs has been heralded as a visionary and "insanely charismatic" leader (Nocera, 2011, p. 1). Because of his charisma, Jobs also demonstrated remarkable personal power in spite of his being notoriously difficult to work with, prone to mood swings, and perfectionistic. Thus, Jobs combined several core leadership characteristics including the use of coercive power. The type of coercive power that Jobs exhibited was not indicative of an authoritarian leadership style, though. Jobs remained a charismatic leader throughout his life. He was known for being tough on his team members, but only because he was a perfectionist and expected perfection from others. Because of the way Jobs demanded artistry from his team, "Apple employees were willing to follow him wherever he led," (Nocera, 2011, p. 1).
Concept and Practice
The Apple brand began with personal computers, which Jobs helped to revolutionize by making the devices more accessible and easy to use by average consumers. Nocera (2011) notes, "Jobs virtually invented the personal computer, with the introduction of the Apple II, when he was barely 21," and he also invented the Macintosh, which was "the first commercially successful machine with a mouse and windows, and all the other features we associate with modern computing," (p. 1). The mouse and windows made computing qualitatively different than it had been before, in the sense that computers had graphical user interfaces that consumers with little to no technology background could use.
Throughout Apple's production history, Jobs maintained his core commitment to product design as a focus. This is why Jobs narrowed Apple's product line to a select few items, rather than diversifying the line to include a plethora of products the way competitors in the industry were doing. The iPhone and iPad are examples of how Jobs applied the theory of focus and simplicity to his approach to product design and branding. Isaacson (2012) attributes Jobs's focus to his Zen training, and attributes Jobs's success as a leader largely to his ability to remain focused.
Jobs synthesized technology with lifestyle, which was a key to Apple's success. The products that Apple brought to market were ones that wooed consumers with their attractive design and intuitive user interface, not their presumed processing power. This is how Apple would eventually differentiate itself from Microsoft, and avert the Microsoft giant's threatening takeover of the technology universe. Jobs was able to show how computers could be artful and attractive as well as utilitarian. One of Jobs's most famous mantras was "stay hungry, stay foolish," which means that he believed that human creativity and motivation comes from a place of intense drive, a willingness to take risks, and a need to succeed at all costs.
Using the trait approach to leadership, Jobs exhibits self-confidence, determination, and integrity. He "never doubted his products would change the world," (Northouse, 2013, p. 24). The word most commonly used in conjunction with Steve Jobs is likely to be "visionary." For example, Jobs invested in a small animation house called Pixar and transformed it into a powerhouse of animation in Hollywood. Jobs also foresaw the consumer demand for both smartphones and tablets. Even though some early prototypes of Apple tablets failed, Jobs ultimately released both iPhone and iPad in stellar timing to take the market by storm. Other companies are still playing catch-up with Apple, and no one else has developed either smartphones or tablets that are as iconic as the iPhone or iPad.
Although Jobs is often described as being demanding, rude, and rough, "Mr. Jobs was not driven by his own ego or by some self-interested needs," (Henson, n.d., p. 1). Jobs reveals the difference between a leader that driven by self-interest and one that is driven by genuine passion. Jobs's passion was for perfection itself: he did not settle for anything less. The root cause of Jobs's passion was his penchant for artistry, which Isaacson (2012) claimed he learned from his own father. Jobs treated his products like art, down to the circuit boards. "The team of 30 engineers engraved their signatures on the inside of the first Macintosh, where nobody could see. 'Real artists,' said Jobs, 'sign their work," (Isaacson, 2012, p. 9). Jobs's perfectionism also permeated his approach to management, as he would not tolerate mediocrity in any form. Members of the Apple team were therefore of the highest caliber, and they remained firmly dedicated to the same level of perfection that Jobs demanded from them. As a result, Steve Jobs falls under the rubric of transformational leadership, which "often incorporates charismatic and visionary leadership," (Northouse, 2013, p. 185). Interestingly, Jobs exhibits some of the traits of servant leadership as well, such as foresight and conceptualization (Northouse, 2013, p. 222).
Jobs's leadership style is charismatic and visionary, but it is also achievement-oriented. Achievement-oriented leadership is "characterized by a leader who challenges subordinates to perform at the highest level possible," (Northouse, 2013, p. 140). The perfectionism that Jobs continually exhibited in his work and his leadership style exemplifies the achievement-oriented approach. Achievement-oriented leaders are also characterized by their extreme self-confidence and lack of self-doubt. Steve Jobs knew that if he developed a product that was absolutely perfect in his eye, that consumers would want it. Finally, Steve Jobs surrounded himself with the best possible employees who were specialists in their fields. Although he was tough on his employees, he did empower them by helping them to maximize their strengths rather than allowing them to rest on their laurels or accept mediocrity.
Steve Jobs "wasn't known for his consultative or consensus building approach (McInerney, S., 2011, p. 1). Of all the core leadership traits, sociability is the one that Jobs lacks the most. He also had a " tendency to be rough on people." (Isaacson, 2012, p. 1). "Rude" and "abusive" are some of the words used to describe Jobs (Isaacson, 2012, p. 8). Some say he was "known for his blunt delivery of criticism," (McInerney, 2011, p. 1). As his chief biographer Isaacson (2012) points out, Jobs was known for his "extreme emotionalism," as well as "his petulance and impatience," (p. 1). While these were traits that might have been inextricably woven into the fabric of Jobs's personality, leadership style, and key to success, his people skills remained sorely lacking. It is likely that Jobs could have honed some of his more volatile traits in order to create a more harmonious work environment.
Moreover, Jobs had tremendous vision and foresight in the realm of technology and seemed eerily keyed into what consumers wanted. However, the leader did not have the ability to foresee the future of his own company's leadership. He was known for being controlling, and this likely bled into a belief that he was the only person suitable enough for the job. Jobs was also not in the business of grooming a successor, because he was not inherently people-oriented, and might have had difficulty trusting that other people -- anyone but him -- was capable of running the Apple corporation. Jobs was a passionate, creative, driven leader whose primary focus was developing artful, unique, and consumer-friendly products. Yet he had no successor. Had he been able to groom leaders and mentor others on his team, Jobs might have ensured the current and future innovativeness of the company.
Recommendations to Improve Effectiveness
It is practically impossible to recommend improvements to a dead man, but it is possible to recommend theoretical improvements to improve Jobs's effectiveness were he still alive. If Jobs were still alive, it would be strongly suggested that he put as much focus on finding a visionary leader to succeed him, as he put into developing a product. If Jobs felt incapable of doing so, then he would still be responsible for choosing a person who was: someone who he trusted, who cared about the company deeply, and who was able to recognize in another person the core traits that Apple needed in the wake of Jobs's death.
The problem is that Jobs's shoes are impossible to fill. The man exuded amazing charisma and power,…