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Leading with Purpose: The Steve Jobs Way

| Wednesday March 9th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Apple has been in the news a lot lately. Last month, it released new Macbooks and an iPhone 4 for Verizon.  On the sustainability front, the company released its annual Supplier Responsibility Report.

The biggest news of all was not necessarily the release of the the iPad 2 but the presence of Steve Jobs at the iPad 2 unveiling event, after an extended medical leave.

With all the craze around Apple’s new products, there is just as much, if not more, enthusiasm for the company’s founder and CEO, Steve Jobs.  But what makes Jobs such an outstanding leader?  How does he bring together a team, churning out revolutionary products, many times over?

A new book by Jay Elliot former Senior Vice President of Apple, may give us some insight.  The Steve Jobs Way, takes an insiders look at the leadership of Steve Jobs.

The book covers the muddled connectivity between Apple’s history andSteve Jobs’ career. From the Apple II to the original Macintosh, from his expulsion from Apple, to his return that turned around a failing company.  From bringing to market a new user experience via the Mac OS, Mac OS X, iPod, iPhone, and the iPad.

What makes The Steve Jobs Way unique over all other books on Apple’s history are the first hand anecdotes and interviews by the author, Jay Elliot.

In many ways Elliot was a mentor to Steve Jobs, often acting as a “sounding board” to Jobs’ ideas to further product production at Apple.  After all, at the time, Elliot was an experienced executive with many years at IBM and Intel.  Jobs was only in his 20’s.

As Elliot examines his interactions with Jobs, it appears the mentorship got flipped, where Jobs became the mentor and Elliot the mentee.  Through recounting his experiences with Jobs, we come to understand how Jobs inspires a sense of purpose, for the company, for its products, and for its employees.

For the company, its purpose was to understand the Apple’s own strengths, but also its weaknesses.  With the weaknesses, it was about partnering with companies that had that missing strength.  For instance, Apple did not know how to run a cellular phone service, so it partnered with AT&T for the iPhone.  AT& T had the cellular strength.  Apple had the consumer electronic device strength.

On another note, Jobs ever obsessively found clarity of purpose for its products. Elliot recounts incidents of Jobs’ keen sense of detail as the ultimate end user. To continue the iPhone example, despite his engineers saying it could not be done,  Jobs was persistent that the  iPhone only have one control button.  It is just as important to say no to features as it is to say yes to features.  That design revolutionized smart phones as we see them today.

But, through Elliot’s recollection of working with Jobs, we see that Jobs was also keen to inspire the purpose of the people he brings together: “People want more humane environments where their efforts are at least acknowledged, where they feel a part of something.  The younger generation of employees, and especially the most talented ones, want more than a nine-to-five job.  They want something with purpose.”   Jobs provides an entrepreniual environment where talented people are challenged yet can flourish.

An interesting note, in terms of the pursuit of sustainability, was the challenge Elliot posed to Jobs in an open appreciation and reflection letter at the end of the book: “I would hope that your future products will not only give us access to information but be able to read or detect information through the screen…detecting the quality of the air we’re breathing and the water we’re drinking.”

Overall, The Steve Jobs Way gives us a behind the scenes look at Steve Jobs and his leadership.  The anecdotes and interviews that Elliot shares provides insight into how we, as sustainability business folk, may  inspire, challenge, and lead people in our respective organizations.  Perhaps we can add another P to the sustainability moniker of People, Planet, Profit.  The P of Purpose.


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