Sunday, 15 April 2012

The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs

Six months after the untimely loss of Steve Jobs, Harvard Business Review in their April edition gave some space to Walter Isaacson to write about "The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs".

Isaacson's piece is definitely a must read for Jobs fans,  for those who believe Jobs had too many dark sides and for those who have the mental flexibility and willingness to learn what it takes to be a visionary and a perfectionist.

Isaacson starts his piece by saying that "Jobs acted as if normal rules didn't apply to him and the passion, intensity and extreme emotionalism he brought to everyday life were things he also poured into the products he made." He continues to say that Jobs "petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism".

There is a lot of wisdom in these statements. These behaviours may not be in-line with a lot of modern management dogmas. And this very true. Here we are not talking about management but LEADERSHIP and a VISIONARY LEADERSHIP. This is the difference. This is the difference between Steve Jobs and the rest of the world!!!

Isaacson then proceeds to talk about 14 leadership lessons of Steve Jobs:

  • Focus: Jobs was a great advocate of filtering out distractions and keep focus. When Larry Page went to visit Jobs, this is what he had to tell him: "You are all over the map, focus on few things, you're turning Google into Microsoft and its dragging you down". Page being Page, listened to Jobs and as a result today Google is focusing on Android and Google+. And Page has committed to make these two beautiful the way Jobs would have done!
  • Simplify: Jobs was great at zeroing in on the essence and eliminating the unnecessary components. This is why what ever he has created is functional and elegant. He believed "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" and he was damn right. He also recognized that "it takes a lot of hard work to make something simple and come up with an elegant solution, because to be truly simple you have to go really deep". This is great lesson, especially for all those folks out there who love all sorts of bells and whistles and believe that the more complicated something is, the better it is.
  • Take responsibility end to end: Here is a big one for all those who fail to understand the importance of integration. Jobs was a master for elegant integration. He integrated hardware, software and peripheral devices. This made "Apple ecosystem a sublime experience like walking in the Zen gardens of Kyoto". And those lucky ones who live in the Apple ecosystem can testify to this. We love this sublime experience and feel the torture and abuse when we are forced to take a walk outside of the Apple sublime ecosystem.
  • When behind, leapfrog: This is what Jobs did with iPod and later with iPhone. He cannibalized iPod sales by creating iPhone and he said: "if we do not cannibalize ourselves someone else will".
  • Put products before profit: If there is one leadership lessons that big IT companies should learn, is this one. Jobs focused on making the product great. He used to say if the product is great, profits will follow. And he was right. Look what happened to Sony after Apple put out iPod. In the development world, this would translate into putting the mission of the organization before donor demands.
  • Don't be slave to focus groups: Boy, oh Boy, if I do not love this..... "You need intuition and instinct about desires that have not yet formed" was Jobs mantra. "Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page". This is why he was visionary and inspired people. He believed "intuition is more powerful than intellect" and yet again he was damn right. 
  • Bend reality: This is one of  my all time favourites along with push for perfection and tolerate only "A" players (see below). And these are amongst the things for which I often get into trouble, but you know what it is worth it. Jobs used to say: "have people do the impossible". Everything is possible!!!!
  • Impute: Now you are probably wondering what the hell is this all about. As a perfectionist, Jobs believed in the importance of packaging because he said "it sets the tone for how you perceive the product" and yet again he was right. Would you like to receive a product in a carton box, or in an elegant box, as if you were receiving a precious piece of jewelry? 
  • Push for perfection: Jobs believed in hitting the pause button to ensure perfection. Many times he stopped development process and delayed launch of products, because he was pushing for perfection and he was never wrong. "You need to love the creation". He was a true artist and had his engineers sign in their names on their works, and this made them go proud of their creation - just like Michelangelo, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Botichelli, Hockney, Hirst.
  • Tolerate only "A"  players: Jobs was not the polite type with mediocre people.  "If something sucks, I'll tell people to their face. It's my job to be honest". Jobs was an inspiring leader and he created groundbreaking products and believed in accomplishing the impossible. He could not have done all of this with mediocre people, this is why he only tolerated "A" players. Quite frankly this is what all great leaders do - tolerate "A" players only!
  • Engage face-to-face: Despite being a computer geek, Jobs believed strongly in face-to-face interaction and the fact that creativity comes from spontaneous meetings and random discussions. This is why good leaders encourage people to get out of their offices and mingle. They promote collaboration and creativity. Another of the many great traits of Jobs was the fact that he fostered free flowing meetings with no agenda and no powerpoints.... "People who know what they're talking about do not need Powerpoint". Next time you are in a meeting and someone stands up to deliver a powerpoint presentation, bend the reality and tell them to do so without the slide deck!!! 
  • Know both the big picture and the details: This was one of the many unique traits of Jobs. He had a vision and at the same time had a great eye for details and I mean minute details. He saw the computer as a "digital hub" and the moved this to the "cloud" and while he was laying down this grand vision, he fretted over the colour and shape of screws....... This is how much he cared about the PRODUCT and not profit, this is how much he pushed for PERFECTION and was obsessed with IMPUTE!
  • Combine humanities with sciences: This one is something that IT geeks just do not get it. Jobs connected humanities to sciences, creativity to technology, arts to engineering. It was thanks to this  combination that he created creative edge in the future. "No one else in our era could better firewire together poetry and processors in away that jolted innovation".
  • Stay hungry, stay foolish: This is a soundbite from Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech. It is more than just a soundbite. It was Jobs' way of life. Be a hippie, be a nonconformist, be artistic, be enlightened, be rebels and troublemakers. Jobs' behaviours reflected contradictions and confluence. 
Jobs believed in putting round pegs in the square holdes and described himself:"while some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do" and HE DID IT. He changed the world and he did it an inspiring way!

Will the world be fortunate enough to have another Steve Jobs in the near future? We'll see. In the meantime, we have to count our blessings for having benefited from his genius and cherish his legacy. May he inspire real leaders and convert less open-minded ones to see the light!



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