The Big Lesson About Leadership From Steve Jobs

The Big Lesson About Leadership From Steve Jobs

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

A great deal has been written about the co-founder of AppleAAPL -0.99% Computer in the aftermath of his passing. Colorful stories abound about his brilliance at developing products that millions of people have fallen in love with. This week a feature film was released about his life. A vibrant life. At the same time, the film documents Steve Jobs’ darker side as well.  Is there a valuable lesson we can extract from his storied career

We believe there is.  Simply put, Steve Jobs will be remembered for a handful of remarkable strengths that he leveraged.  These strengths were so profound they completely overshadowed his failings.  (End of lesson.)

How does this apply to the millions of people who currently occupy positions of leadership?  We think the lesson for all of us is to work on developing our strengths, and to not automatically gravitate toward trying to overcome the things we don’t do well.

Our experience and research confirms that the great majority of leaders, when asked to create a plan of development, immediately want to find out their faults and failings and start there.  The underlying assumption is that “Whatever strengths I have are just that—strengths—and have taken care of themselves.”  “The way to get better is to fix my failings.

The research is clear, however, the most effective leaders are not the ones without flaws, nor are they above average on every leadership competency.  Neither of those paths leads to great leadership.  The winning ticket: Like Jobs, you must possess 3-5 competencies in which you excel.

Jobs had great passion for product excellence.  He insisted on elegant design and simplicity.  Unlike many other CEOs he became extremely engrossed in the details, especially when it came to the product and how it was marketed.  He set stretch goals for hardware and software and pushed people to accomplish more than they dreamed possible.

These strengths trumped his imperfections.  Yes, he could be rude, unreasonable, fickle, and arrogant. He even took credit for others’ ideas.  The list of his weaknesses is quite long.  Let’s be very clear: if Jobs had not possessed the remarkable strengths we have noted, these behaviors would have capsized him early in his career, but strengths eclipse shortcomings.

The message to every leader is this: Identify the distinctive strengths you possess.  Find ways to magnify them and lead with them. They will make you into a truly extraordinary leader.

Along the way, do your best to minimize any negative behavior.  The number of leaders who simultaneously combine profound strengths with fatal flaws is roughly 1%, according to our research.  Possessing seriously negative behaviors greatly diminishes your chance of being a truly extraordinary leader. But simply removing the negative behaviors without developing standout strengths does nothing more than get you from negative terrain to ground zero.


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