The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs (according to his biographer)

Walter Isaacson says some 'fixate too much on the rough edges of his personality'


The death last October of Steve Jobs and the release soon after of a massive biography chronicling the life of the legendary entrepreneur has spawned a small cottage industry of writers and consultants seeking to distill the Apple co-founder's managerial and creative genius.

But according to Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs, many of the people who have tried to draw lessons on management from the book have tended to "fixate too much on the rough edges of his personality."

In an article posted on Harvard Business Review, Isaacson argues:

The essence of Jobs, I think, is that his personality was integral to his way of doing business. He acted as if the 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. His petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism.

Isaacson asserts that "a century from now" business schools will be trying to figure out how Jobs created such a successful, enduring company. In his HBR column, Isaacson tries to give those B-schools a head start by listing what he considers the keys to Jobs's success.

There's a bunch of them, and Isaacson's column runs seven pages online, but here are just a few:


According to Isaacson, focus "was ingrained in Jobs’s personality and had been honed by his Zen training. And while this laser-like focus at the expense of everything else caused family members and colleagues enormous frustration, it helped save Apple when Jobs returned from exile in 1997. Jobs famously ordered Apple's product team members to cut the number of products the company makes (including 12 versions of the Macintosh) to just four.

Jobs told Isaacson, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”

Take Responsibility End to End

If this seems like the ultimate in control freakery, that's because it is. But Jobs's need to control was fueled in part by his "passion for perfection and making elegant products," Isaacson writes.

He got hives, or worse, when contemplating the use of great Apple software on another company’s uninspired hardware, and he was equally allergic to the thought that unapproved apps or content might pollute the perfection of an Apple device.

Obsessive, sure, but umpteen million Apple fanboys can't be wrong.

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