Steve Jobs was unquestionably brilliant. The future of Apple, however, will test a much different leadership skill than anything we saw in his lifetime. In Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, it is clear that he led with might, but now the full spectrum of his leadership style will be truly tested.
The debate as to whether Apple is now doomed for failure because of the death of Steve Jobs continues to swirl. Recently, in this CBS News interview, Larry Ellison essentially said that we know how this story will end:
LARRY ELLISON: He was — he was brilliant. I mean, our Edison. He was our Picasso. He was an incredible inventor.
CHARLIE ROSE: So what happens to Apple without Steve?
LARRY ELLISON: Well, we already know.
CHARLIE ROSE: What?
LARRY ELLISON: We saw — we conducted the experiment. I mean, it’s been done. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs. We saw Apple without Steve Jobs. We saw Apple with Steve Jobs. Now, we’re gonna see Apple without Steve Jobs.
Apple shirked the overzealous rule of Steve Jobs in the 90’s only to grovel for his return, and upon his return, something magical happened–unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any other business. The snubbed CEO returned and led the company victoriously. Other CEOs have returned to save the day but nothing quite like the triumph of Jobs in the second tenure.
Jobs indeed had a front row seat to the demise of the company in Act I. The second Act, he played the lead role in its recovery. Now in the third Act, however, his maturity as a leader will be tested.
Time will Tell…
I was talking to a grandfather who watchfully shepherded some kids on a playground, and I commented to him how “good his grandchildren were.” He responded, “time will tell.”
While we can discuss all of the active characteristics of good leadership, the ultimate test is the ability to leave a legacy. For the grandfather, the legacy of his leadership will be tested through the challenges and rigors of life of his children’s children. At some point, quicker than most want to admit, the parent’s authority fades, and the values instilled in the first 8-10 years of life will carry the child into adulthood.
Likewise, the most effective leaders create organizations that carry on far longer than their time at the helm. They create lasting legacies of values that are carried down from one generation to the next. Ultimately, the leader becomes irrelevant to the daily operations and only then is truly leading.
In this 2009 article, Apple’s core values were articulated as follows:
- We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.
- We believe in the simple, not the complex.
- We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.
- We participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.
- We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.
- We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot.
- We don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.
Are these simply words on a wall somewhere? Are they tucked away in some policy and procedure handbook? Or are they in the hearts and minds of every employee of the organization. As a side note, while preparing this post, I tweeted a friend that works at the Apple Store about the company values, and he sent me a scanned version of a tattered and worn copy of the Apple Store credos entitled “Enriching Lives,” which communicate aspects of these values into customer service.
Will Apple make it? As the grandfather so eloquently said, “time will tell.” Jobs undoubtedly left a mark on the world, but time will tell whether he led an organization to leave a lasting change in the world.
In our youth we believe we (individually) can change the world. With experience it becomes clear that the only real change is the ability to influence others through consistent application of values. The success or failure of that change is measured in the legacy one leaves behind.