The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Leadership & Steve Jobs

Seems there are hundreds if not thousands of blogs and articles regarding Steve Jobs right now and yes, there is some irony in me writing yet another one. However, lately leadership has been one of the topics forefront in my mind and it’s hard not to look at Steve and wrestle with the nuances of his character and leadership.

There is no doubt that the world has been changed as a result of this man’s vision and tireless pursuit of perfection. What perhaps fascinates me the most is his ability to see “big” things but also doggedly pursue the smallest of details with reckless abandon. Having been on the I.T. side of things for many years there were aspects of Apple that I both liked and abhorred. The products are slick, interfaces beautiful but boundaries set in stone and I cringed every time I heard a “Genius” tell me that I couldn’t do this or that – seemingly simple processes on other products, namely Windows. Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece perhaps sums it up best when Malcolm basically states Steve did not like the things he tweaked to be tweaked by others – they were perfect as he saw them. Gladwell argues that Steve wasn’t as much of a visionary as he was a tweaker – taking ideas that he found with others and perfecting them. The line that stood out to me the most was, The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution. That is not a lesser task.

As we consider leadership – where we are in our own organizations – I think we often feel the need to be a “visionary” as Gladwell defines it and start with a clean sheet of paper. This is, of course, a noble and often necessary task. However, I am coming to realize the lesson from Steve Jobs leadership not only comes from his pursuit of “tweaking” but perhaps more from his focus and determination. Steve wasn’t afraid to fail, wasn’t afraid to speak and wasn’t afraid to act. Can we say the same about ourselves?