The Missing Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

Many of us have mourned the loss of an American icon—Steve Jobs. He has been hailed as a technology visionary and wizard, cloaked in the ability and chutzpah to bring to market paradigm-shifting products that would annihilate his company’s existing products. There is no doubt in Steve’s ability to assimilate new technologies, mold them into cutting edge products with avant-garde design, and drive his development team to deliver the goods in a timely fashion. He was the master of focusing on a singular goal. However, that is not the most important leadership lesson we can learn from Steve.

Steve’s success at Apple can teach us a couple of different and very important lessons about leadership. First, we don’t necessarily need every single “leadership trait” to be successful. The dark side of Steve Jobs is well-documented. He was abusive and domineering, even to long-time “friends.” Steve succeeded despite his malevolent daemon. Second, Steve showed us that an extreme introvert can be a highly successful leader. He was never outgoing, but would go to great lengths to seek out an individual who might further his cause.

The phenomenal success of Steve Jobs can be attributed to a small set of skills so masterful that they overpowered his undeniable weaknesses. Steve was the quintessential charismatic leader. His idea of “making a dent in the universe” was so magnetic that it attracted skilled designers, engineers, programmers, and other professionals whom he could then bludgeon into designing and manufacturing bleeding edge products.

To generalize this lesson, we see a powerful example of an individual who is a very successful leader because his positive traits far and away overshadow his negative traits. Does this mean we should relinquish our quest to find “perfect” leaders who have a well-rounded set of leadership characteristics in favor of others who may have a small set of positive characteristics that outweigh their weaknesses? Not necessarily.

I advocate a semblance of balance in leadership characteristics with an eye toward the strengths necessary for the particular leadership position. For example, you would not want to place a strong, decisive leader over a team that is almost self-managing. To do so would likely create resentment and possibly turnover in the team. Similarly, you wouldn’t position a leader whose strength is building consensus over a team that needs a quick, remedial intervention. That team needs someone who can learn quickly and make rapid, firm decisions.

Leaders I work with frequently ask me if their shortcomings will be a problem and derail their career. I respond that it will not be a problem if they are genuinely interested in becoming an exceptional leader, gathering honest feedback from team members, and responsive to the needs of their team.

So take an intelligent approach when looking for leaders. Determine the style and elements of leadership necessary to get the specific job done and focus on a search for the type of leader that will fit that particular role.


• Determine the leadership elements necessary to successfully lead the specific team
• Don’t worry if the candidate leader is weak in some areas as long as he or she meets the minimum criteria of ethical and moral behavior
• A leader does not need to be an extrovert to be successful—clear, concise communication is what’s necessary

Keywords: leadership, charismatic leadership, abusive, introvert, extrovert, introversion, extroversion, dark side

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