Steve Jobs Leadership Style

In the working world, there are four main leadership styles: Autocratic, democratic, free-rein, and paternalistic. Each of the most successful leaders of our time falls into one of these four, almost without fail.

By examining the way our most successful leaders in business got their start, how they embodied the characteristics of one of these four leadership styles, and how they became known as a successful leader, we can deduce the ingredients needed for extraordinary success.

One of the most notable examples of this is iconic tech pioneer Steve Jobs.

How Steve Jobs Started Apple

Nothing about Steve Jobs’ upbringing would indicate to you that he would one day become one of the most successful, most instantly recognizable figures in the entire world: He struggled in school, he rebelled against authority figures, he rarely behaved, and was frequently suspended, and he even dropped out of college after a single semester. It sounds like the complete opposite of a success story, and that’s what makes it so remarkable.

Jobs never cared much for learning… until suddenly learning meant everything to him. His life was changed when his family moved to a new school district in California — one that was imbued with engineers and Silicon Valley innovators at practically every turn. Here, at Homestead High in Los Altos, California, Jobs met Steve Wozniak and developed an interest in both electronics and literature. From there, the rest was truly history.

After graduation, Wozniak and Jobs began tinkering around with technology: from illegal “blue boxes” that plugged into landlines and allowed for free long-distance calls to homemade video game systems that rivaled the Atari, the two realized that innovative technology could be both life-changing and lucrative at the same time. This experimentation of theirs, along with their regular meetings with other homemade tech creators like themselves, led to their creation of the first Apple computer, the Apple I, in 1976. With that, Apple Computer Company — now simply Apple Inc. — had begun.

How Jobs Was Fired By Apple

For the next several years, Wozniak and Jobs continued to grow Apple into a tech titan of its day. They went from the Apple I to the Apple II in 1977, but issues had already started to come between the two Steves: creative and technological differences led to many disputes between them, and when Jobs decided to shift his focus from the improvement of the Apple II to the development of the Macintosh, the developing rift became more obvious than ever.

Jobs put all his faith in the Macintosh in 1981 and dedicated himself to the product for the next few years while Wozniak continued doing what he did best. As work on the Macintosh continued into the early 80s, former Pepsi (PEP) president John Sculley was lured from the soda company to Apple by Jobs to serve as the CEO. This was Jobs’ idea, and Sculley’s hiring in 1983 was eventually a large part of Jobs’ eventual firing just a year later in 1984.

Jobs’ immense faith in the Macintosh and his disinterest in working on the Apple II — or even recognizing it as the powerhouse that it was, effectively ignoring it despite it bringing in 85% of the company’s revenue — led to a great divide that put Jobs on one side and Wozniak and Sculley on the other.

Upon its launch, the Macintosh sold well but eventually plummeted in sales, resulting in Sculley reorganizing the company to push Jobs out of a position of power within Apple and effectively rendering him useless. After some internal struggles, Jobs, Wozniak, and several other high-level Apple employees all left the company.

What Steve Jobs Did After Leaving Apple

After leaving Apple in 1985, Jobs began working on the NeXT computer. With $7 million of his more than $250 million net worth at the age of 30, Jobs founded NeXT Inc. and got to work on his next great idea: the NeXT workstation, priced at $9,999, and intended for use in educational settings.

While the technology was astounding, the cost was just too much. Once again, Jobs had developed an incredible product that no one was buying. He worked on and released a second generation of the product, shifting it away from the educational market to the personal computer market, but still, the story remained the same. NeXT eventually shifted entirely to software development (and, in time, became the framework for the iTunes Store).

Meanwhile, in 1986, Jobs also dipped his toe into animation with the creation of the Graphics Group, a spin-off of Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division. He paid $10 million, half of which went straight to Lucasfilm for the rights to the technology (which only added to fellow innovator George Lucas’s immense wealth). The Graphics Group would go on to partner with Disney (DIS) and change its name to Pixar.

In 1996, with Pixar in full swing and NeXT finally turning a profit, Apple announced the aquisition of NeXT for almost half a billion dollars — Jobs was set to return to the company he’d been away from for over a decade at that point, where he would remain as CEO for the next 15 years until his resignation and subsequent death in 2011.

What Leadership Style Did Steve Jobs Have? 

Without a doubt, Steve Jobs was an autocratic leader through and through. He had a meticulous attention to detail and an insistence on perfection, which often resulted in him exercising a “my way or the highway”-style approach — He was even known to surround himself with like-minded, agreeable individuals who would allow him to continue to execute his visions his way, no matter if they ended up being successful or not. (Clearly, this was rooted in part in the fact that Jobs was first fired for a less-than-successful idea.)

Jobs was unabashedly demanding, and he behaved as an autocratic leader because he wanted to be the best. Still, this led to him being simultaneously criticized and praised by people both inside and outside of Apple for creating what’s known as a reality distortion field: Jobs’ winning charisma and infectious passion for his products led to an almost inescapable feeling that Apple and its products could do the impossible.

This style of leadership has made Jobs essentially synonymous with Apple, with one instantly recalling the thought of the other.

What Makes Steve Jobs A Great Leader?

Despite being an autocratic leader, Steve Jobs was great at what he did because he was a forward-thinker. To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky — as Jobs often did — Apple anticipated where the puck would be, not where it has been.

The company, thanks to Jobs’ leadership, never stopped striving for the kind of excellence once thought to be impossible. He revolutionized the computer, the phone, the way we listen to music, and the way we communicate as a society.

All of this was possible because of Jobs’ leadership. Remember: Jobs was not known as a coder, nor a designer. What he could do was lead those key collaborators who could do those jobs according to his vision. He led, they followed, and together, Apple changed the world under his leadership.

What Is The Key To Steve Jobs’ Success?

Steve Jobs credited his success to two key factors: passion and people.

This sums up his leadership approach: Not only did Jobs have passion for what he did, but he was able to make people passionate about it, too.

Passion alone without people to feel that passion won’t get you anywhere, and people alone without any passion won’t take you anywhere, either. Jobs prioritized passion and people, and it singlehandedly made him the success we know him as today.

What Type Of Entrepreneur Was Steve Jobs?

Just as there are four kinds of leadership, there are nine different types of entrepreneurship: buyer, researcher, imitator, hustler, innovator, social, scalable startup, small business, and large company.

Of these nine, Steve Jobs could fit into several. The most prominent, though, would have to be the innovator.

Jobs’ innovation led him down some rough, less-than-successful paths in his life, but he always managed to take what he had learned on that path and apply it in a much more successful way down the line. He was an innovative entrepreneur, and he was proud of it.

Steve Jobs Net Worth When He Died

At the time of his death from neuroendocrine cancer in October of 2011 at the age of 56, Steve Jobs was worth $7 billion.

He did not come from a wealthy family, he did not have the luxury of an inheritance or a rich relative to help him along the way, and he did not get his money from any sort of shady business dealings, either: Jobs is one of incredibly few billionaires who has the ability to say they’re truly self-made.

Steve Jobs Leadership Style: Conclusion

Between his humble beginnings and his unfortunate ending, Steve Jobs never stopped breaking through barriers, defying boundaries, and pushing for innovation. This was true as a rebellious student, and it remained true through to his death at the height of his career in the early 2010s.

There’s no telling what Jobs would have come up with over the past decade since his passing, but one thing is certain: it would have broken new ground, and it would have been a perfect example of his unique leadership style.

By observing what Jobs did and how he did it, we can now begin to better our own leadership styles and strive for excellence just as he did.

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