What is Steve Jobs’ management style? If we went into explicit detail, we’d probably talk about it all day! Steve Jobs possessed a unique approach to business, one that probably won’t be replicated in our lifetimes. The combination of a deep understanding in consumer technology, a desire for focus and simplicity and a meticulous attention to detail (among other things) helped propel Apple to new heights and unshakeable popularity.
In this brief article, we’re going to review some pros and cons behind some key aspects of Steve Jobs’ management style—and why it worked.
A Refusal to Accept Mediocrity
‘Make the impossible possible.’
Jobs essentially believed in making the impossible possible. He refused to accept mediocrity, instead opting to push concepts, ideas and even near complete prototypes to their absolute limit. In fact, there have been countless instances where Jobs encouraged teams to redo work that they had presented them, since he would immediately dismiss the presented work.
What teams would do, after having their work dismissed by Jobs, fix the scrutinized piece, led by the responsible team member who would also go over the work, fix and make other minor improvements.
Where the impossible’s possible motif comes in starts with Job’s unshakeable will. Members of the company’s essential teams would rework things that they thought were great—and make them better a dozen times over after Job’s scrutiny. If you thought something as innovative as the iPhone couldn’t happen under anyone else’s eye, you’re probably right.
Some would call Job’s encouragement approach to be ‘militant,’ but reports of his work nature reveal something interesting about the best of the best workplaces: it takes a strong personality to light a fire underneath a company’s core workforce. Otherwise, it’d be difficult to complete the absolute best that a company may have to offer the general public.
Despite Jobs’ refusal to accept mediocrity, it didn’t make him the easiest person to work with. In fact, there are plenty of anecdotes from former Apple employees – from all rungs of the employee hierarchy – that described how Jobs operated when at work.
Accept Mediocrity or Rise Above It?
You don’t have to go ‘full Jobs’ around your employees or work partners. Remember: what worked for him worked because he trusted his own gut to push forward.
As a business owner, take that piece of advice and use it to your own advantage. No, you don’t have to turn everything down to force encouragement among people—no one has that kind of privilege, especially when starting out.
Instead, work as close as you can with your partners without stifling them. Encourage a workplace where everyone feels encouraged to push harder without feeling too pressured. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish.
‘Use your eyes like a hawk’s glare.’ ~ A Meticulous Attention to Detail… or A Penchant for Control?
As a business leader, and not just an owner, you call the shots. You also need an eye for detail that surpasses everyone else below you. Every little bit counts, whether you’re running a software start-up or a niche bakery operation, since any product that goes out the door needs to be consumer ready—i.e. perfect. If something goes out the door without being checked over, even at a pre-production level (before the mass production process), guess who gets the blame. That’s right.
Steve Jobs was notorious for his impeccable attention to detail—one so impeccable that it successfully helped conceptualize and push several popular product lines to the public.
At work, many remarked that he ‘could not accept even the smallest imperfection in any product,’ even when it wasn’t his own. He famously told Google exec Vic Gundotra to modify the yellow gradient found in the 10-pixel Google logo found within the iPhone Map app—on a Sunday, at that. Within his own company, he encouraged a type of perfection that caught on throughout Apple, influencing the mindset of the people working them under his tenure. Everyone knows the result of their efforts.
An impeccable attention to detail can quickly morph into a penchant for control—obsessing over every minor detail, even those that don’t need much of a change. In fact, this turn of events may quickly spoil morale at work. Not only that, having such a ‘Jobs-like’ attention to detail costs money—Apple may have the budget to stress over the details, but most of us don’t.
Do the Details Matter?
Sometimes, you do need to review certain aspects of your business in order to make sure it’s just right. Whether you’re looking over products, marketing details or even your social media profile copy, double checking the details does make all the difference.
But not everything needs to be meticulously triple checked. If your gut’s telling you to push forward, push forward.
‘Think outside of the box.’ ~ Become a Visionary or Starving Artist
Most, if not all, business leaders dream of having the creative vision of Steve Jobs—to meld something truly creative with the practicality of technology without spoiling the essence of both. Such a prospect was successfully captured within the original iMac, iPod and iPhone.
But that wasn’t the main driving force behind Jobs’ creative vision. From his return in 1997, the responsibilities of those at Apple were made clear amongst the workforce: that every project, and every task associated with a project, would have someone held responsible—a directly responsible individual—who got chastised or praised based on their work.
Simplicity and focus, coupled with an innate understanding of consumer technology, helped Jobs turn Apple around after returning to the company in 1997.
Not only that, Jobs encouraged others to follow him in his own special way—past and current public employees have famously noted Jobs’ ‘magnetic persona’ which would inspire them to keep working on the creative challenges he often presented.
While Jobs turned Apple around with simplify and focus and an understanding consumer technology, he was also backed by the already large presence of the company. Despite the downturn in the mid-1990s, Jobs held steady and helped the company get even bigger in the following years.
Pursue Your Vision or Starve Trying?
Most small businesses don’t have such resources. But, as a business leader, you do have the power to tap into your creativity in a constructive way. That means you’ll have to be critical and encourage others to work with you, even if they’re reluctant at first.
Not everyone has the resources of Apple nor the visionary progress of Steve Jobs. As a business leader, however, there are ways you can make it work—you just have to trust your gut.