Steve Jobs’ Leadership Style

Steve Jobs
Diving into the mystique of Steve Jobs’ leadership style, we find ourselves amidst a convergence of relentless passion and groundbreaking vision.

As the driving force behind Apple’s meteoric rise, Jobs’ managerial philosophy fused meticulous attention to detail with a fervent pursuit of perfection. This distinct approach has piqued the interest of many management training courses, keen to impart lessons from Jobs’ playbook to inspire budding leaders.

Venture with us as we unravel the facets of the ‘Jobs Legacy’, a potent blend that redefined the paradigms of modern business innovation.


Who Was Steve Jobs?

Before answering the question, “What was Steve Jobs’ leadership style?” Let’s cover some critical details about the man behind Apple.

Steve Jobs was born on February 24, 1955, in San Francisco, California. He was an American business owner who is best known for being the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of the world-renowned tech company Apple.

He also served as Pixar’s chairperson and majority shareholder and as a member of The Walt Disney Company’s board of directors after it acquired Pixar.

In 1985, Jobs left Apple after a long power struggle with the company’s board and then-CEO John Sculley and founded NeXT. He returned over a decade later, in 1997, and revived the company when it was on the verge of bankruptcy.

During the next several years, he was responsible for Apple’s famed “Think different” slogan, as well as the development of tools like the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

In 2003, Jobs was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumor and passed away eight years later in 2011.

What truly distinguished Steve Jobs and set him apart from other business leaders was his unique managerial style and leadership skills. His approach to leadership was almost unparalleled, making it a central aspect of his identity and success.

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What Leadership Style Did Steve Jobs Use?

The leadership style of Steve Jobs is typically described as autocratic.

According to Richard Branson in an article published in The Telegraph, “Steve Jobs…had a meticulous eye for detail, and surrounded himself with like-minded people to follow his lead.”

Steve Jobs’ Leadership Style Defined

Steve Jobs’ autocratic, innovative leadership was undeniably effective, but it’s also controversial.

Here’s a breakdown of how autocratic leadership looks:

  • Minimal input from others: Autocratic leaders make most – if not all – decisions. They typically aren’t interested in feedback and have more of a “my way or the highway” attitude.
  • Highly structured work environment: Autocratic leaders thrive in a highly structured work environment (specifically, a structured environment that they developed and implemented).
  • Clear rules and processes: A critical component of a structured work environment, which autocratic leaders love, is a clear set of rules and processes. Everyone knows their role, what’s expected of them, and how they’re expected to do it. They also know who gets the final say at the end of the day.

Autocratic leadership can be beneficial because it allows for faster decision-making and increased team productivity.

However, it can also be problematic in some situations because it can create conflict, particularly when someone else is vying for the leadership role, and can cause subordinates to feel devalued.

Steve Jobs’ Leadership Qualities

What leadership styles and qualities made Steve Jobs an autocratic leader?

Here are some examples of leadership qualities he possessed that make it pretty clear he belongs under the autocratic leadership umbrella:

He Was Demanding

Steve Jobs expected a lot from the people who worked for him.

He set a high bar for his employees and made it clear that they were supposed to meet it if they wanted to keep their jobs. He required employees to work long hours, sacrifice their personal lives to help the company achieve specific goals, and tolerate harsh criticism.

He Was Innovative

When people think about innovative leaders, a picture of Steve Jobs almost always appears in their minds. Few people can compete with Jobs when it comes to creativity and thinking outside of the box. He had ideas that no one else could fathom, and he wasn’t afraid to share and work toward achieving them.

He Was Passionate

In addition to being innovative, Steve Jobs was passionate. He loved his work and loved creating something out of nothing.

Jobs also believed in his vision and his ability to turn ideas into realities. His passion meant that he wasn’t easily deterred, even when the company faced lawsuits and severe financial setbacks.

He Was Perfectionistic

Steve Jobs strove for perfection in all that he did – and he expected his employees to do the same. He was committed to making every product Apple put out flawless, and he understood that that meant focusing on the details, no matter how tiny they might seem to someone else.

Even something as minor as a slight colour mismatch could not escape Jobs’ critical eye.

He Was Inspiring

When they learn about how critical Steve Jobs was, as well as how perfectionistic and demanding he could be, some people wonder why someone would want to work for him. The answer is simple: Because he was inspiring.

Jobs’ passion was infectious, and he inspired others to go after their dreams, stay committed to their visions, and not take “no” for an answer.

He Was Reluctant to Delegate

Steve Jobs, like many autocratic leaders, wasn’t a big fan of delegation. He trusted his own judgment and abilities more than others, which meant he was often wary of assigning tasks to others when he thought he could do the job better himself.

He Led by Example

Jobs didn’t just have high expectations for his employees. He also had high expectations for himself and held himself to the same standard. He didn’t tolerate half-measures in his own work, which is why he was so critical of others and expected them to follow in his footsteps.

He Separated Creatives from Critics

Jobs once said, “Gather ten smart people into a room, and one or two will be creative, two are great at solving problems, [and] the rest are critics. Keep the creatives away from the critics.”

He understood the importance of criticism when it comes to doing great work. However, he also knew that creatives needed space to experiment, think outside of the box, and fail without being heavily scrutinised while they were in the process of creating.

He Wasn’t Afraid to Subtract

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, he cut the number of projects the company’s staff were working on. He understood the power of doing more with less and subtracting things that weren’t working or were taking people away from projects that could lead to better long-term outcomes.

He Wasn’t Afraid to Stand Out

Jobs truly embodied the Apple motto, “Think differently.” He thought differently, and he was different, and he wasn’t afraid of that. He was willing to do what others thought was impossible, move forward with a vision that others didn’t understand, and do what was necessary to create devices that were new and game-changing.

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Steve Jobs Leadership Style Quotes and Examples

Like any great business leader, Steve Jobs delivered numerous inspiring messages throughout his lifetime.

Here are some of the most significant Steve Jobs quotes that demonstrate his autocratic leadership style:

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Based on quotes like this, it’s clear that Jobs considered himself a leader and knew that he was different from his colleagues. He also wasn’t afraid to walk away and forge his own path – which he proved when he left Apple and founded a new company, NeXT.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

This quote is another example of how Steve Jobs wasn’t afraid to stand out, think differently, and do what others were hesitant to do. His innovative prowess and commitment to following his passions made him a force to be reckoned with in the tech world – clearly, he wasn’t willing to live someone else’s life as he worked toward accomplishing his own goals for his companies.

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

As an autocratic leader, Steve Jobs trusted his own inner voice and believed in himself and his abilities. Quotes like this prove this point. Jobs wasn’t afraid to stand out and take chances, and his lack of fear in these areas allowed him to become one of the most well-known and admired leaders of all time.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Autocratic leaders like Jobs believe in their vision and trust that the path will eventually become clear, especially to those who doubt them. They aren’t afraid to follow their passions, pursue their visions, and work toward perfection.

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Steve Jobs was known for being a harsh critic and expecting the best from his employees. While he allowed the creatives room to experiment, when he assigned a task, everyone knew that he wanted it completed according to his standards. He expected excellence, and he wasn’t tolerant of people phoning it in.

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the unsuccessful ones is pure perseverance.”

Jobs was clearly headstrong and willing to persevere, even when others doubted his abilities or were unsure of his vision. As an autocratic leader, he knew what he was capable of and trusted that others would eventually get on board with what he was trying to accomplish.

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

This quote demonstrates Jobs’ innovativeness and commitment to creativity. It also illustrates his autocratic leadership style and the idea that he knows what’s best, even if others (including customers) do not yet understand that themselves.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

As mentioned earlier, Steve Jobs was not afraid to subtract when needed. He was willing to say “no,” even when he was met with a good idea. If it wasn’t the right time for that idea or if something else was better, he didn’t hesitate to turn it down and focus on something else – something that would move the needle forward toward a greater goal.

“Sometimes, when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.”

Jobs understood that mistakes were part of the creative process. He also encouraged others to acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them instead of trying to cover them up. He knew that the sooner you could do that, the sooner you could start making progress again.

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get.”

Steve Jobs’ autocratic leadership style, combined with his creativity, trust in himself, and sheer talent, allowed him to turn Apple into a massive company even though, in the beginning, it didn’t have the resources of its competitors. He understood that good leadership and good employees were more important to success than money alone.

Lessons to Learn from Steve Jobs’ Leadership Journey

Even those who don’t consider themselves autocratic leaders or don’t want to lead in that way can learn from Steve Jobs.

The following are some of the most noteworthy lessons you can take from his approach:

Have a Clear Vision

Steve Jobs was a visionary leader. There’s no denying it. He always knew what he was working toward and wasn’t afraid to stay focused on that goal, even if others didn’t fully understand it at the time.

You can do the same thing as a leader at your company. Knowing what you want to accomplish and creating a plan to achieve it will separate you from other leaders and help your business grow and succeed.

Pursue Excellence Instead of Perfection

Mistakes are part of the journey. Jobs understood this, and you should, too.

Instead of striving for perfection, strive for excellence. Strive to do the very best you can (and encourage your employees to do the same), paying attention to the details (no matter how small) and staying committed to your passions.

Hire the Best Person for the Job

Although Steve Jobs was hesitant to delegate and took on a lot of responsibility himself, he also understood the importance of having a great team behind him. He was a cautious team leader who carefully selected who he employed and looked for the very best candidate!

Do the same when hiring people for your team. Look for the best fit for each position and find people who are as committed to excellence and innovation as you are.

Inspire and Push Employees to Do Their Best

When you’ve taken the time to find the best people for each job at your company, you can strive to inspire and push them to do their best, the same way Jobs did. Using strong communication skills, make sure your employees know that you have high expectations and standards, and encourage them to meet or exceed them.

Lead by Example

The best way to inspire your employees and encourage them to do their best is to lead by example. Jobs certainly did that, as demonstrated by his attention to detail and willingness to go above and beyond to accomplish his goals.

Show your staff that you are willing to work just as hard as you expect them to work.

Follow Your Passions

When you pursue your passions, you’ll have a much easier time staying the course and remaining committed to your vision, even when you run into roadblocks or when others don’t understand why you’re doing something a specific way. Jobs didn’t care that people didn’t always get him or his vision, and that empowered him to achieve things that others could only dream of.

Take Responsibility

Some autocratic leaders take on a lot of responsibility but are quick to shift blame to someone else when something goes wrong. Jobs didn’t take this approach, though, and was willing to take responsibility for the company’s successes as well as its shortcomings.

You should aim to do the same as a leader. It will help you win the respect of your team and establish yourself as a trustworthy, inspiring person in the future.

Final Thoughts

While Steve Jobs’ management style might not work for everyone, it was undoubtedly effective when it came to founding and later rescuing Apple, as well as turning it into one of the most well-known tech companies in the world.

Even if you don’t adopt all aspects of Steve Jobs’ leadership style, you can still learn from his approach. Keep the lessons shared above in mind so you can make some positive changes to inspire and empower your team and produce better results.

And if you’re looking for more in-depth leadership training, MTD has plenty of courses that can get you there.

Check out our Essential Management Skills Training course and Management Development Programmes.

We also offer an ILM Online Course and Management Training Webinars.

Looking for more blogs like this? Check out the following:

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training

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Updated on: 18 December, 2023

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