How Apple Leadership Changed From Steve Jobs to Tim Cook

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Finger pushing dominoes

Years after his passing, Steve Jobs remains one of the most singular and controversial business figures of the century. With his headstrong personality, enthusiasm, and unbridled brand vision, he overcame numerous setbacks.

Despite losing it all multiple times, he launched Apple from humble beginnings to become one of the most celebrated companies in the world.

Let’s look at some of his most important lessons:

1. Love what you do

This arguably forms the basis of everything Jobs did. From his earliest roles to his time at the helm of Apple, he pursued the things he was most passionate about. When work became tedious for Jobs, he changed his focus. He was relentless in only prioritizing time for the tasks, ideas, and people who mattered most. In this way, he overcame the “dictatorship of the inbox” that so many professionals fall prey to throughout their careers.

2. You can’t do it alone

Many people have claimed Jobs was selfish. However, he recognized he couldn’t do everything. Though he could be tyrannical in setting the agenda at Apple, he knew it would take the collaborative talents of other experts to fully execute his vision. This idea extended beyond his professional life to his personal one. Although he was intensely private, he honored the experience and wisdom of others in a lifetime of spiritual seeking. He had mentors, allies, and friends in all his endeavors.

3. Find only the best talent

One reason Jobs is so provocative is that he strove to recruit people who were as skilled and passionate as he was. This was a high standard to meet. Still, Apple’s continued success after his passing shows the wisdom of Jobs’ strategy. By recruiting the best, he helped ensure everything Apple did was distinctive. From customer service all the way to the most senior strategist, Jobs believed in the value of exceptional people.

4. Go with your gut

Logical, deliberate decision-making is important — but in the end, it’s impossible to have 100% of the facts before you make a decision. At some point, leaders have to take everything they know and dive in, even if their choice goes against conventional wisdom. Jobs listened to trusted advisors but ultimately made the call. Mostly, he was correct. Every time, he took ultimate responsibility.

5. Never be satisfied

Business leaders from all backgrounds have advised their young protégés to “sharpen the saw” — that is, take time to improve professionally and personally. Jobs not only embodied this as a personal credo but also made it part of Apple’s culture. During his tenure, the company had blockbuster products that created new markets practically overnight. Even with this smashing success, however, he was never content to stop innovating.

6. Aspire to think differently

Jobs was notorious for disregarding user testing, focus groups, and other traditional methods that measure what customers would buy. Instead, he strove to realize what needs were unfilled by the market — in other words, what customers wanted before they knew it. Although it required determination and great risks, this focus on the new and unusual ultimately solidified Apple’s brand leadership.

7. Think products, not profits

Jobs encapsulated his focus on innovation in a suite of pioneering products. He had unshakable confidence in the belief that new products would open unprecedented opportunities, even if it meant heavy investments in research, development, and design. By delivering a better end result, he succeeded in opening new markets where competitors had already failed, like tablet computing.

8. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Apple products are known for many things, but one is their distinctive appearance. There are no extraneous or counterintuitive features. By relentlessly simplifying, Apple was able to distill the essence of its products. For example, it designed simple touchscreens at a time when touch technology was in its infancy. Because of this devotion to minimalism, customers access and enjoy amazing features.

9. Push for perfection

Apple is surrounded by competitors who are “good.” However, only Apple has established such a commanding brand and market presence that customers trust it again and again. One of Jobs’ core personality traits was the desire for nothing less than perfection, and this may be the driving reason why customers line up for each iteration of Apple products.

10. Are you doing work you’d be proud to show your family and friends?

Many people find themselves settling for less in their careers. They may find themselves bound up in work that doesn’t really seem to make a difference. In the worst case, they might have real ethical worries. Jobs would never stand for that. He believed making the world a better place was a powerful motivator that made for better workers — and better people.

Despite that a number of phenomenal companies and business leaders have received acclaim since his passing, few in the business world have reached Jobs’ level of respect and admiration. As a result, Steve Jobs remains one of the most idolized business figures of the Information Age. With his push for perfection, deep understanding of simplicity and inability to ever be satisfied, Jobs was able to overcome a number of difficulties, including being fired from his own company, to truly change society for the better.

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Sources, “Steve Jobs”
Business Insider, “Apple is losing its focus again”
Harvard Business Review, “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs”, “Steve Jobs: An Extraordinary Career”