Steve Jobs started out as an asshole but, a new book says, he got better. Just as importantly, the book claims Jobs was changed by falling in love with his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, and starting a family. Some elements of Jobs’ management style stayed consistent, however.
The book’s authors, Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, suggest that much of Jobs’s professional image as a mercurial manager was shaped by “stereotypes that had been created way back in the 1980s,” before he and Apple retreated from the press. “Perhaps that’s why the posthumous coverage reflected those stereotypes,” the authors speculate.
Between that initial wave of press coverage and his return to Apple, Jobs’ personality and management style shifted in subtle and not so subtle ways as a result of the struggles of NeXT, his follow-up effort, as well as inspiration from the creatives at Pixar, which he acquired and later sold to Disney. Just as importantly, the book claims Jobs was changed by falling in love with his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, and starting a family.
The book provides good lessons for all leaders, insofar as Jobs has become a widely observed case study for the archetype of the genius founder. The book highlights the sometimes contradictory leadership traits of a man who is quoted in the book as saying, “I didn’t want to be a businessman,” and then went on to become arguably the most influential businessman of his generation. Here are the most revealing anecdotes.
While Jobs often acted like someone who thought he knew best, the CEO nonetheless sought out mentors in the tech industry, including the founders of Intel, Hewlett Packard, Polaroid, National Semiconductor and others. Some, like Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, would remain lifelong advisors, sometimes to the exhaustion of the mentors:
Those who worked for Jobs could expect an earful from the executive when dealing with him on any given day, but they rarely received formal reviews and feedback. “Steve didn’t believe in reviews,” one former employee says. “He disliked all the formality. His feeling was, ‘I give you feedback all the time, so what do you need a review for?”
Likewise, he was less than generous in doling out praise to employees. Instead, he would show it by taking the best employees on walks. “Those walks mattered,” recalled another employee. “You’d think to yourself, ‘Steve is a rock star,’ so getting quaity time felt like an honor in some ways.”
Early in his career, Jobs burned the midnight oil in the office along with much of his team, but by the time he returned to Apple, he was more focused on trying to balance his work with his new family.
Some have wondered over the years how a man who famously went off to India and embraced Buddhism could reconcile that with running the largest corporation in the world. As it turns out, he continued to meditate until he and his wife had kids, which cut down what little free time he had left. In fact, according to the book, Jobs “arranged for a Buddhist monk by the name of Kobun Chino Otogawa to meet with him once a week at his office to counsel him on how to balance his spiritual sense with his business goals.”
After his first cancer surgery in 2004, Jobs’ leadership style changed again. He had more sense of “urgency” to pursue innovative products, and less time and energy to handle other business issues, ranging from human resources to manufacturing.
“When he came back from that surgery he was on a faster clock,” Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, tells the authors. “The company is always running on a fast-moving treadmill that doesn’t stop. But when he came back there was an urgency about him. I recognized it immediately.” Read more…