Why the Steve Jobs Leadership Style Won’t Work for You
28 December 2020
It cannot be denied that Steve Jobs was a very successful entrepreneur. That success was achieved, however, in an unconventional manner, demonstrated in business interactions, and communication with people in general.
In his biography, and according to various other credible sources, he was unorthodox in the way he responded to customer input. He also proved to be atypical in the way he dealt with his team members and the way he handled business relationships.
People may observe Steve Jobs’ leadership style and headstrong manner and think this is the key to his success. However, being headstrong is unnecessary for successful management. Although being headstrong was a trait that Steve Jobs exhibited it was not the key to his success.
There are no secret formulas for perfect management as situations may arise for which we cannot be prepared. There are a few tips and tricks on how to be a successful leader for aspiring entrepreneurs, but it isn’t recommended to imitate the leadership style of Steve Jobs when considering a business management startup strategy.
The Style of Steve Jobs’ Leadership
In 1985 Apple experienced disappointing sales and a plummeting stock price. This was deemed, by Apple’s then CEO John Sculley, to be the result of Steve Jobs being headstrong and narrow-minded.
This was concerning project Macintosh, the venture Steve Jobs was responsible for at the time. As a result, Steve Jobs was fired from the company he co-created.
He bought the company for $5 million from Lucasfilm and became the company’s largest shareholder and CEO. In 1997 NeXT was sold to Apple and Steve Jobs was hired, this time as CEO, working for a salary of $1 a year.
This time around the projects he developed and the inventions he produced saw an increase in sales and a rise in stock price. Apple was ahead of the game providing simple to use but beautiful designs that won consumers over earth wide.
The company was riding on the wave of a developing internet and leaving its competition behind. Under Steve Jobs’ management, Apple had become one of the most successful companies in history.
Steve Jobs is considered to have led his company in an autocratic manner, as something of a dictator, making all the decisions himself. This showed a lack of trust in his employees and made him unpopular with his team.
Despite this apparent lack of trust, Steve Jobs knew the importance of taking business risks and as a result, made many mistakes in his career. The genius was that Steve Jobs was the first to learn from his mistakes. Through his innovative ideas, he had created one of the most successful companies on the planet.
Why It Won’t Work for You
There is no doubt that Steve Jobs was successful and that he used unconventional methods along the way in his path to success. Steve Jobs’ leadership style worked for him, but there are many unconventional methods he used that would likely not work for you in the same way.
Here are some of the accepted startup principles Steve Jobs did not adhere to and why you should:
As a business grows, additional tasks need to be completed and more responsibilities need to be addressed to ensure the business runs smoothly. Enlisting the help of others by delegating certain tasks or assigning specific responsibilities is a way to share the load.
Due to Steve Jobs’ leadership style, delegating tasks, or responsibilities was not an option. With a larger business, he was forced to assign some responsibilities elsewhere but only when necessary. His reluctance to trust others was because he wanted to be involved at the forefront of every new venture.
Although this sounds like a good thing, taking on too much responsibility as an individual can have negative consequences. It can be detrimental to a person, and even the business could suffer.
Train and Invest in Staff
For most businesses to be successful they need to be operated by individuals who have received some kind of formal training. The majority of staff will thrive and develop under such training.
Steve Jobs never had any formal training. This makes his accomplishments even more remarkable and exceptional. This may well be possible for someone as gifted as Steve Jobs, but the majority of people require an investment in training.
Formal education allows them to carry out their tasks and responsibilities successfully. When it comes to leadership and management this is especially important.
Nurture Business Relationships
It is important in any business to have good relationships with potential partners. This can give the company a level of security and support that may be necessary for maximizing business potential.
Steve Jobs had feuds with many potential partners including John Scully and Bill Gates. This could have been detrimental to his success. Most successful entrepreneurs would consider developing their relationships with potential partners rather than jeopardizing them.
By setting goals and communicating expectations a company can be unified in its approach to the business moving forward. This only works if everyone understands why the company has these targets.
Achieving this is as simple as spending time with your team to communicate your expectations of what the company is trying to accomplish.
Steve Jobs failed when it came to that level of communication. Instead, he publicly humiliated or even fired some members of his staff who did not understand the direction he wanted to go in.
Multiple members of staff left Apple, disagreeing with Steve Jobs’ leadership style. One of these was Rob Johnson, who created the Apple retail stores. Allison Johnson who was Apple’s vice president of global marketing and communications also left.
Although ambition is important, it is also important to accept reality when it comes to making business decisions. This is a general rule that ensures the security of a business’s investments and expectations.
Steve Jobs liked to push his ambition past the line of reality. This was called his Reality Distortion Field.
It referred to an episode in Star Trek where an alien race created an alternative reality through sheer will. This would on occasion result in what appeared to be the impossible becoming a reality.
As an example, Steve Jobs pushed Steve Wozniak to create a game called Breakout in four days. Wozniak informed him that would usually take months.
As it turned out the ‘impossible’ was achieved by Wozniak in a matter of days. This of course is an exception to the rule. Sticking to realistic expectations should always be endeavored by a successful business.
Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Another aspect of reality is not to be a perfectionist as this can be costly to a business.
Steve Jobs was known to be a perfectionist. This meant that he missed multiple release dates, cost targets, and even skipped entire markets on occasion. All of these things can be detrimental to a business especially one that is starting up.
For a more conventional startup strategy, we recommend the minimal viable product (MVP) approach. That means providing a product with enough features to be usable and utilizing customer feedback to further develop the product.
With multiple employees working in a business, it is only a matter of time before someone voices their opinion on what the company is doing. Allowing these opinions to flow will attract and encourage top talent to join your company and stay there.
Of course, acting on every opinion will not always reap good results. That being said it is better to create an environment where initiative is rewarded and encouraged. Any failures or mistakes that do come along can then be opportunities to learn.
As a result, his workforce felt they had to tread very carefully when it came to what they said and what they did.
This type of atmosphere would discourage staff from being motivated to use their talents. It may even discourage them from working altogether.
Target Real Customer Groups
One of the primary concerns of a business when developing a product or a service is who is the target focus group. This lowers the risk of a product being unsuccessful as the product would be designed around that audience.
Steve Jobs’ attitude towards this approach was very different. He once said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
This is, of course, not a reliable motto for most business ventures. Doing so would be a significant risk factor for any business starting out.
A balanced approach is needed when it comes to business ventures. We may be tempted to pour some of our personality traits into the way we conduct our business.
Depending on what those traits are these could be detrimental to the success and health of the business. While a personal touch is a selling point for many products, we would want to take a balanced approach.
Steve Jobs’ leadership style showed that he had a personality in need of balance. That was never considered in the way he dealt with his staff, the manner in which he handled business relationships, and the style he used to promote his products. This lack of balance did him no favors and if anything caused more trouble than it was worth.
Ending thoughts on why the Steve Jobs leadership style won’t work for you
There is no question that Steve Jobs was successful and without him, Apple would not have been what it is today. He was innovative and creative helping Apple to revolutionize the technological industry.
There are many lessons to be learned from Steve Jobs’ leadership style and how he became a success. Some are good and some are bad. Everyone has different talents.
The key is that to be a successful business entrepreneur you do not have to imitate Steve Jobs’ leadership style or try to be him in any capacity. A convention is a convention because it works.
Although Steve Jobs proved to be an exception, an aspiring entrepreneur would more likely achieve success by not following in his footsteps.
If you enjoyed reading this article on Steve Jobs leadership style, you should check out this one about startup funding stages.
We also wrote about a few related subjects like how to value a startup, IPO process, IPO lockup period, risk assessment matrix, business process modelling, business model innovation, business model vs business plan and accelerator vs incubator.