The 14 Leadership Lessons I Learned From Steve Jobs

3 min read • Dec 06, 2012 • Mike Alder

It doesn’t really matter if you love or hate Apple, everyone seems to respect Steve Jobs for making Apple the company it is today. I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review titled: “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, the author of Steve Jobs biography. Isaacson shares 14 keys to Jobs’ success.

  1. Focus: Don’t let multiple products/services ruin your focus. Jobs advice to Google’s Larry Page: “What are five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they are dragging you down.”
  2. Simplify: Create products that don’t require a manual. Simplicity can be harder that it seems because building a product that is effective yet simple and easy to use is sometimes easier said than done.
  3. Take Responsibility End to End: Make sure you take responsibility for the customer’s experience from beginning to the end.
  4. When Behind, Leapfrog: If you find yourself behind your competitors instead of playing catch up just skip to what is going to be the next big thing.  In Apple’s case they brought out a line of iMac’s that had CD drive’s that couldn’t burn a CD but they leap frogged by creating iTunes, iTunes Store, and iPod which made it unnecessary to use a CD to listen to your music.
  5. Put Products Before Profits: Steve Jobs said, “My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary.” If you make great products, profit will come.
  6. Don’t Be A Slave To Focus Groups: When one of Jobs’ original teams suggested they do market research to find out what their customers wanted. He replied by saying, “No, because customer’s don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.” He then quoted Henry Ford saying, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me, ‘A faster horse!’” Apple made products they wanted and would use.
  7. Bend Reality: Don’t let people tell you it can’t be done. Push and encourage others with what can be done. Steve asked one of his engineers, “If it would save a person’s life, could you find a way to [do it]?”
  8. Impute: The product details on the boxes Apple products come in are carefully designed. Jobs obsessed about how the boxes looked on the outside, and how it looked inside the box as you opened it up. Presentation of any product had to mirror the beauty of the Apple product inside.
  9. Push for Perfection: Don’t rush to release a product just because you have invested a huge amount of time on it and can’t come up with anything better. Don’t be afraid to start over from scratch to create product that you imagined in the beginning.
  10. Tolerate Only “A” Players: Many people have heard how tough Jobs was on his employees. Jobs joked, “If something sucks, I tell people to their face. It’s my job to honest.” He was this way to ensure that only people who wanted to be there and make the best products in the world were working at Apple.
  11. Engage Face-to-Face: Engage your employees face-to-face. Jobs designed the Pixar building to make sure that the front doors, stairs, and other key traffic points all went to the atrium. This type of approach gets employees engaged with each other and creates a better culture within your company.
  12. Know Both the Big Picture and The Details: You have to have a great vision or mission but to accomplish that vision you have to focus in on the details. Don’t be afraid to dive into the details.
  13. Combine the Humanities with The Sciences: Don’t be afraid of connecting two different areas of focus. Allow your passions to fuel your creativity. Jobs considered himself “a humanities person” but enjoyed electronics. Apple’s purpose for creating innovative products was to better humanity with technology.
  14. Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish: Don’t loose who you are. Jobs kept his hippie and hacker attitude throughout his life. A 1977 Apple commercial declared, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Don’t be afraid to put everything on the line or look foolish.


It doesn’t matter if you love or hate Apple. They are an incredibly successful company and we can learn a lot about leadership from Steve Jobs.  Learning from other successful entrepreneur’s can help you be just as or even more successful. Jobs often asked, “What are five [keys] you want to focus on?”

Where are you going to focus first?


Mike Alder

Mike Alder is a University of Utah business marketing student and marketing specialist at Lendio. Passionate about entrepreneurship, small businesses, and inbound marketing. Mike shows his passion by sharing stories of successful entrepreneurs and companies with small business owners on the Lendio blog. He makes these big success stories easy-to-apply in simple and easy to read language for the everyday small business owner and entrepreneur.  

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