What Can You Learn from Steve Jobs?

In every conference and meeting I’ve attended this past week, the discussion has turned to the loss of one of our most admired thought leaders, Steve Jobs. Without question one of the most innovative leaders of our time, he changed the way people connect with one another and how we experience digital content. His holistic view redefined the personal computing, music, animation, cell phone and mobile computing industries, to name just a few. Many say Steve Jobs’ legacy will be “the blending of technology and poetry.”

His accomplishments are astounding by any measure. The story of how he started Apple with friend Steve Wozniak in his parents’ garage is legendary. Within ten years they had grown Apple into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. After being fired in 1985 from the company he founded and built, Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and transformed it from a financial catastrophe into the world’s most valuable technology company. He and his teams of developers, engineers, and marketers at Apple released the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad in just 10 short years (yes, the first iPod was released in 2001). Many people forget that Jobs was also behind Pixar Studios, the company that created the world’s first computer-animated movie, Toy Story. He was a visionary cultural leader, and he led both Apple and Pixar from that perspective.

What was the basis for Jobs’ extraordinary leadership and accomplishments? He had no college degree, let alone an MBA. What drove Steve Jobs – what got him up every day and compelled him to keep going, even in difficult times – was passion. He believed that passion was the most important ingredient for success, and it was Apple’s core value from the beginning. He is reported as once having said, “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying, ‘I’ve done something wonderful…that’s what matters.”

I think passion is an often overlooked characteristic of great leaders, and yet the greatest leaders always have it. You might be a creative genius like Steve Jobs, a marketing guru, a numbers expert or a technological whiz, but to really achieve success, you have to love what you do and be passionate about it. When you have passion, you are totally committed to what you are doing; you want to give your best effort every day, in everything you do. Passion is the driver that keeps you moving forward and keeps you on course.

By most accounts, Steve Jobs was not an easy man to work for. He had exacting standards and demanded perfection. Yet he was admired and hailed as a great leader. Why did people follow him? Because he deeply believed in what he was doing. His passion was authentic, and that is a powerful lesson for all of us. You can’t fake passion. If you don’t genuinely believe in your organization’s mission – and your role in that mission – you can’t lead your team to greatness.

I too have discovered that if you find and live your passion, the rest will follow. But how do you find your passion? The first step is to know yourself, and then you must be yourself. That was a principle Steve Jobs followed his entire life. I talk about this principle and its connection to great leadership in my book, It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor. Knowing yourself and being yourself are lifelong endeavors. They are not the result of an exercise you complete in one day, but rather an ongoing process of self-reflection and self-realization. Here are a few thoughts to get you started:


1)    Know your Heart:

  • Your personal beliefs
  • Your values
  • Your intrinsic motivators

2)    Know your Mind:

  • Your areas of expertise
  • Your skills
  • Your strengths and weaknesses

3)    Know your Dreams:

  • Your short-term and long-term goals
  • Your hopes and fears
  • Your immediate intentions

4)    Know your Vision:

  • What you truly want – now and in the future
  • What you want your legacy to be
  • Who you want to be “at the end”

In a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Steve Jobs shared this thought with the graduates: “You’ve got to find what you love…. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

Find your passion, live your passion, lead from your passion!

What can you learn from Steve Jobs’ example that you can apply to your leadership? Leave a comment below.

Visit www.shambaughleadership.com to learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s leadership and organizational development, employee engagement and coaching services.

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Rebecca Shambaugh

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