Steve Jobs Leadership Style: 8 Lessons From His Career

Steve Jobs left behind a lifetime worth of lessons

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To be a leader is one thing, but to be a revolutionary is an entirely different ball game. One of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time, the late Steve Jobs was an innovator who wore many hats during his storied career. A designer who successfully transitioned his business and entrepreneurship, Jobs was a dynamic thinker unafraid to challenge the status quo. Entrepreneurship and leadership go hand-in-hand, and while some might think leadership is an easy concept to grasp, in reality, very few people have the ability to be not only a leader, but a transformational one.

By now, we are all quite familiar with Jobs’ accomplishments as one of the founders of Apple, but that isn’t what we are talking about today. Instead we are focusing on the lessons behind Jobs’ leadership style, and how they can be effectively applied to many present situations. More than a decade since his passing, Jobs’ legacy is still extremely prominent not just in tech, but in business, entertainment, sports, etc. Through the years, Jobs’ was humble enough to share his wisdom and many lessons through multiple speeches (his 2005 Stanford Commencement address remains one of the most iconic deliveries of all-time), videos and panels, providing permanent resources for current and future generations.

There are different levels to leadership. For some, leadership could be becoming a manager or CEO of a company, for others, leadership could mean actively taking the reins of your own life and career. Leadership can be a natural-born trait, or it could be one that is acquired through life lessons and experiences. Steve Jobs was a natural born leader, but you could make the argument that he had to become an acquired one upon venturing into entrepreneurship. The knowledge he learned and shared through his relatively short life remains invaluable, and we have selected eight different lessons from Jobs’ career that can be beneficial to you regardless of what phase of life you are in. 

1. Jobs Didn’t Make Excuses

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At the end of the day, Jobs understood that excuses are a waste of time and don’t really get you anywhere in the long run. In a story described by John Rossman in his book Think Like Amazon, Rossman highlights a story told by Jobs to his employees in which he questioned why the janitor wasn’t able to take the trash out before leaving for the evening. The janitor in question had been unable to dump the trash the previous night due to the doors being locked, and the responsibility fell on Jobs’ vice president for not making sure the janitor had the proper tools to do his job. “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering,” he told his employees. “When the employee becomes a vice president, he or she must vacate all excuses for failure. A vice president is responsible for any mistakes that happen, and it doesn’t matter what you say.”

Many other CEOs would have blamed the janitor for this incident despite it not being his fault, but what separated Jobs from others is that he understood that advanced leadership requires more responsibility, and wasn’t willing to accept any excuses from his staff as to why that should have been any different.

2. Jobs Provided Mentorship

According to an article on, writer Carmine Gallo gave a deeper look at how Jobs was able to provide next-level mentorship. While Jobs’ was a demanding leader, there isn’t a single employee that would have traded the experience of working with him.

Guy Kawaski, a former Apple employee, recalled her time with Jobs saying “He demanded excellence. You had to prove yourself everyday. He kept you at the top of your game.”

“I don’t think I run roughshod over people, but if something sucks, I tell people to their face,” Job once said, reflecting on his leadership style. “It’s my job to be honest. I know what I’m talking about, and I usually turn out to be right. That’s the culture I tried to create. We are brutally honest with each other, and anyone can tell me they think I am full of s--t and I can tell them the same.”

Jobs’ mentorship style was more of a ‘tough love’ approach, and while some of his messages may have been difficult to receive in the moment, it is far more important for a leader to be honest as opposed to ‘nice.’ Niceness doesn’t get you anywhere in the long run if what you are saying isn’t truth based, and sometimes honesty can be a bit harsh. At the end of the day, all of Jobs’ employees walked out better not just within their respective jobs, but as human beings too.

3. Jobs Understood That Creativity Was About Connecting The Dots

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In life, we are constantly connecting the dots whether it’s intentional or not. Creativity can be a complex thing to deal with. Sometimes creativity can flow, and other times it can be extremely challenging. Working in tech is a never-ending journey of innovation, and sometimes you can hit a wall when it comes to inspiration and creativity. When those things happened, Jobs understood that it was all about ‘connecting the dots.’

“Creativity is connecting things,’ Jobs would often say. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.”

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Simple doesn’t always equal easy, in fact, it even can be more challenging, but if you can take it back to the basics, you may be able to break any creative wall you are facing.

4. Jobs Was Selective In His Hiring

It’s only natural for a creative person (especially one who is a leader) to perhaps be a little cocky, but true leaders are humble enough to admit when they may need the expertise of someone else to help them or their business succeed. When it came to his hiring practices, Jobs was never afraid to seek out the right person for a specific task, and often preferred people who ‘were smarter than him.’

Challengers like to be challenged, and that was the approach Jobs took when looking to add additional members to his team.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do,” Jobs said. “We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

True leadership isn’t just being in the driver's seat, it’s also the willingness to sit in the backseat if it is for the greater good. Knowing when to take over and when to step back is a quality that every leader needs to master.

5. Jobs Led By Example

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Any good leader has to lead by example. A good leader has to understand that their moves are being watched by their employees, colleagues, mentees, etc., and recognizes that everything starts from the top.

As mentioned earlier, Jobs could be a demanding boss, but he wasn’t one of those bosses that delegated work without putting forth any effort himself. If his staff was pulling an all-nighter, Jobs was right there with them, and the expectations for himself were greater than those he set for his employees. Jobs wasn’t lazy, and made it a point to constantly think outside of the box when it came to both new and existing ideas. Whether you worked with Jobs or not, his work ethic is something to draw from.

6. Jobs Knew How To Sell His Brand

The ability to start and lead any business starts with a supreme confidence with yourself. Nobody is going to go harder for you than you, and nobody knows and understands your vision better than yourself. Whether you are an entrepreneur or not, at some point in your life you will have to sell yourself and your brand (this could be as simple as a job interview). Jobs was completely aware of this, and was a genius at pitching himself.

Wynton Marsalis, a well-known Trumpet player, reflected on an 2001 encounter in which Jobs was trying to pitch him a deal. “He was a man possessed,” he said. “After a while I started looking at him and not the computer because I was so fascinated with his passion.”

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition,” Jobs said. “They already know what you want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Pitching Yourself and what you believe is a part of life, and in some ways we are always ‘auditioning’ for something. Not only was Jobs excellent at his pitches, he was also charismatic, and had the ability to win people over. So whether you are starting your own business, looking for job opportunities, or perhaps even wanting to ask somebody on a date, confidence is key.

7. Jobs’ Passion Outweighed The Money

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At the time of his passing, Jobs was recognized as being one of the wealthiest people in the world. While the financial element of his career was certainly rewarding, it wasn’t his main motivation. With Jobs, the monetary components never outweighed the passion he had for developing and creating.

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me,” he once said. “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful...that’s what matters to me.”

“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to write. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out. Stay hungry and stay foolish.”

How can you expect anybody else to be passionate about your goals if you aren’t yourself? It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between someone who is interested in what they are doing, and someone who is only in it for the money. Once things become solely about the money, inspiration and creativity can be easily lost, and even the work environment can be affected.

8. Jobs Challenged The Status Quo

Last but not least, Steve Jobs challenged the status quo. Never one to conform to rules and standards, Jobs was more than willing to rebel and step outside of the box (even if meant being labeled as a misfit).

Chris Dodd, The CEO and Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, summed it up best:

“He was a pioneer, and helped all of us better understand how technologists and creators can work together to enrich and enliven our shared world. If anyone ever wonders whether one person can make a difference, the answer is Steve Jobs.”

Sometimes the key element of success is refusing to play by the rules. Leaders are never afraid to push the envelope and step out of their comfort zone.

There will never be another Steve Jobs, and his influence is still felt all around the world today. It is our hope that you can take these lessons and apply them to all areas of your life.

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