Leadership: Steve Jobs

Trait theory questions if natural leaders are born or made in the case with Steve Jobs I believe it is both (Eisenberg, 250). Let’s investigate further.

The leadership of Steve Jobs entices us to "Think Different" regarding Apple products

The leadership of Steve Jobs entices us to “Think Different” regarding Apple products

Steve Jobs is the former maniacal leader of Apple. With the technical help of Steve Wozniak he developed the worlds first personal computer. The innovative mind of Steve Jobs brought consumers products we didn’t even know we needed including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

Steve Jobs during his recognizable product launch presentations.

Steve Jobs during his recognizable product launch presentations.

Steve Jobs was adopted by a young Northern California couple shortly after he was born on February 24th, 1955. According to his biography he excelled so much in school that he became bored with it and stopped trying. His adopted parents made him skip the sixth grade and enter junior high as a youngster (Isaacson, 9-14).

When Steve Jobs was at the helm at Apple he was a notoriously temperamental leader often firing people on the spot. He had two ways to look at Apple products: “Complete Shit” or “The best thing ever”. This symbolized the way computers ran in binary code of either a “0” or “1” to make code (Isaacson, 134).

Steve Jobs excelled in two forms of leadership, transformation and discursive. Transformational leadership “foregrounds organizational change and transformation as the essential task of effective leaders” (Eisenberg, 255). This was on wide display when Steve Jobs took over Apple Computers for a second time in July of 1997 when Apple Computers was on the verge of shutting its doors.

When Jobs founded Apple Computers in 1978 he built the company on simplicity and design, developing three specific computers, Apple II, Lisa, and the Macintosh. After he was ousted from Apple in 1985, the company created a flurry of products including multiple variations of the same computer (see Macintosh Performa). When Jobs reemerged as the defacto CEO of Apple in 1997 he shut down the Performa department completely. He then drew a four quadrant plane on a board and told the Apple executive team that the way to greatness is simplicity “we will focus on four products” one for the home (PC) one for on-the go computing (laptop) one for education (iBook) and a super computer for professionals (Power Mac).

Steve Jobs 4 quadrant portfolio.

Steve Jobs 4 quadrant portfolio.

Recognizing that the company would never survive in the current market place Steve Jobs acted as a change agent to lead the Apple organization through an increasingly turbulent business environment (Eisenberg, 255). With Jobs vision the company looked toward the future and has not looked back since.

Steve Jobs also excelled in a discursive leadership style, which focus on “the cultural aspects of leadership as reflected in concrete interactional processes” (Eisenberg, 257). Simply put, the culture of Apple Computers was established because of Jobs adamant leadership style which demanded nothing but the best from his employees.

Jobs treated his employees badly at times, when developing new products he visioned how it would feel in a consumers hands just as much as how the product worked. His passion for detail and user experience allowed him to go off the deep end many times when confronting employees who were displaying the progress of their work to him.

Steve was often referred to have a “reality distortion field” which was often labled his “consummate skill at persuasion and salesmanship” (Chouhan, 2011). This reality distortion field gave him the ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything. This was first on display when working on the Macintosh project, when he gave developers unfathomable deadlines to get aspects of the project done. In the end, Jobs reality distortion field gave his employees the motivation they needed to complete the projects. In the case of the development of Macintosh, his employees never missed a deadline for completion.

I believe Jobs was born a leader who was influenced by his traumatic upbringing to create Apple as a company. His binary thought process of a product being the ‘greatest’ or ‘worst’ thing can be attributed to being abandoned by his parents at birth. Would Steve Jobs still be a great leader without his life experiences, probably. Would he be able to create one of the most innovative companies without them, we will never know.


Eisenberg, E. M., Goodall Jr., H. L., Trethewey, A., (2009). Communicating leadership, Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint (pp. 250-57). Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s.

Isaacson, W., (2011). Steve Jobs. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Chouhan, S., (2011, September, 16). An exclusive interview with Daniel Kottke. India Today. Retrieved from http://archive.is/20120916/http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/india-visit-gave-a-vision-to-steve-jobs/1/154785.html



About Stephen

Father, music junkie, aspiring television producer, & student of media and communications.
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