The purpose of this study was to explore the leadership approach of Steve Jobs. Upon considering the influence and success that Steve Jobs has enjoyed at Apple Inc. and in other business ventures, it is clear that a study of his leadership can provide valuable lessons for current and future leaders. The study set out to answer the question, “What is the leadership approach of Steve Jobs?”
Based on this question, purpose, and exploratory nature of the study, an inductive research approach was taken. A case study strategy was employed to perform a narrative analysis of the data. The study used articles published in major magazines and newspapers to gather narrative data on the leadership approach of Steve Jobs. Included in this data was also a transcript of a speech delivered by Steve Jobs at a Stanford University graduation.
Through the analysis of the narrative data, three themes emerged that link back to leadership theory and concepts introduced by Collins (2001) in Good to Great. These themes were level 5 leadership, hedgehog concept, and transformational leadership. These three themes incorporate concepts such as deep passion, unwavering resolve, ambition for the company, influence and inspiration.
Research Study Findings
The study found that Steve Jobs is a transformational leader who exhibits level 5 leadership qualities and fosters the hedgehog concept. Steve Jobs is a leader who inspires and effects change. He is deeply passionate about what he does and is extremely focused. He understands what his company is best at in the world and he is able to channel the resources to fuel the economic engine of the organization. Steve Jobs displays an unwavering resolve when making decisions and a strong ambition for the company and its future success.
The objective of the study was to draw out lessons for current and future leaders from the analysis of Steve Jobs’ leadership approach. The most clear lessons that leaders can learn from Steve Jobs is his deep passion for his work, his extreme focus and unwavering resolve in his decision making.
As one observes Steve Jobs’ leadership approach, it is easy to see his passion for the work of his company. He admits, himself, in a speech to a group of graduating students from Stanford University, that he found what he loves to do early in life (Jobs, 2005). He continues to capitalize on this passion even to this day.
Steve Jobs is also very focused in what he does. It was evident during his return to Apple Inc. in 1997. One of the first things that he accomplished was to streamline the product line of Apple Inc. (Linzmayer, 2004). He stripped away things that drained the attention and resources of the organization but did not deliver significant impact. This focus continues to be evident in the design of Apple products. Apple Inc. is known for producing products that are simple, yet elegant in their design and function.
Further, Steve Jobs is known for his ability to insist on what he believes is right and stand by his decisions. This was evident during the release of iPod music player. The product was ridiculed and was not expected to succeed (The Economist, 2007). However, Steve Jobs insisted on its launch and continued production. As a result of this unwavering resolve, the iPod today is the most dominant digital music player in the world.
The qualities described above, passion, focus and resolve when combined together give Steve Jobs the influence that he demonstrates. During his business career, which began in 1976 with the formation of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs has influenced several industries. His influence has been felt in the computer, Hollywood, music, retail and mobile phone industries (Schlender, 2007).
Leaders who can learn from the qualities of Steve Jobs, namely passion, focus and resolve, will begin to develop a similar influence in their companies and broader spheres. Influence does not seem to stem from a set of management rules and techniques. However, leaders who are passionate about their work, who develop an ability to focus on things that matter most, and exercise unwavering resolve in their decisions have a greater opportunity to influence those around them and effect change in their followers, their organization and even in themselves.
The exploration of the leadership approach of Steve Jobs need not end with this study. Future research can further explore this topic by including primary data, such as interviews with those who work or have worked closely with Steve Jobs or possibly an interview with Steve Jobs himself. Also, it may be of interest to explore the relationship between Steve Jobs’ leadership and the financial success of Apple Inc. Thus, it may be beneficial to conduct a study analyzing financial performance of Apple Inc. over a period of recent history or even over the entire life of the organization.
This study focused on the time since the return of Steve Jobs to Apple in 1997. The majority of the analysis was performed on his leadership during the past three years. However, a more extensive study can be performed to compare how the leadership approach of Steve Jobs has changed over his career. It may be a valuable exploration to see how the leadership of Steve Jobs has evolved since he founded Apple and several decades later after he has led in several organizations.
The task of doing a master’s research project appeared daunting and insurmountable. Perhaps the most challenging aspect was deciding on the research question. Once this initial decision was made, the rest of the project immediately gained some direction and plans could be made for its completion.
Research tends to have a reputation for being dry and cold. However, through the process of writing and researching for this project, it has become clear that research can be exciting and intriguing. This study took on an exploratory nature. This approach allowed the study to explore, to interact with the data and for the researcher to involve himself in this interaction. Such involvement and freedom to explore has given this process of doing the research and writing of this master’s project an adventurous flavor.
Prior to embarking on the study, some notions of who Steve Jobs is and how he leads were present. Now reflecting on the study, it is possible to say that some of those notions have been confirmed and others were discovered. For example, it seemed possible that Steve Jobs is a transformational leader, and the study confirmed this observation. On the other hand, it was difficult to say if Steve Jobs can be considered a level 5 leader. The study has provided some evidence and confirmation that he embodies some of the characteristics of a level 5 leader. However, some questions are still left unanswered, such as his level of humility and ability to accept responsibility for poor results.
The study of leadership is an ongoing process. This study explored some aspects of the leadership approach of Steve Jobs. It used an inductive approach to research and conducted a narrative analysis of secondary data published in major magazines and newspapers.
As a result, the study confirmed some assumptions and made some discoveries about Steve Jobs’ leadership approach. In particular, Steve Jobs can be regarded as a transformational leader. He also manifests some of the characteristics of a level 5 leader. And finally, he seems to foster the hedgehog concept as he leads Apple Inc.
Despite the fact that this study has come to an end, the study of leadership and of Steve Jobs does not have to. Further and deeper analysis of the leadership approach of Steve Jobs can be conducted. Other angles of evaluating his leadership can be adopted and explored. Future studies can benefit from including primary data and conducting an analysis of the evolution of Steve Jobs’ leadership approach since he first entered the business scene. In other words, there is room for continual exploration and discovery.