How Steve Jobs Reinvented Leadership

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Last updated: October 29, 2019

How Steve Jobs Reinvented Leadership.

Zoe McKay, Contributor + Comment now by Gianpiero Petriglieri After revolutionizing the computer, music and publishing industries in his lifetime, Steve Jobs’ death has pointed out that he may have transformed just one more—the leadership industry. Spokespersons for the establishment will try to fit him into old molds trying to confine his spirit within the usual terms: Vision. Innovation. Communication.

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Inspiration. There was all that, for sure, but that alone does not quite capture him. We haven’t lost the best CEO of his generation. We lost one of the greatest artists of our times. Image via Wikipedia Consider the global tsunami of mourning that swelled on Twitter the minute Steve’s death was made public and invested every media since. It wasn’t just presidents,celebrities, and gurus expressing their sorrow. It was you and I. Did you not watch your iPod with a tinge of melancholy? Did you not find yourself surprised to feel the loss of a man you never knew? (But whose creations, of course, you gaze, tap and stroke dozens of times a day).

The loss of Steve Jobs resembles that of John Lennon more closely than that, say, of Henry Ford. Steve’s concern for beauty and novelty; his irony and temper; his obsession with authenticity and passion; his signature style; his stage presence and impeccable timing; his ability to capture public imagination and engineer surprise; even the blackturtleneck. That’s the stuff artists are made of. When did you last hear a CEO speak credibly about the value of distractions, the necessity of failure, and of the finitude of life as a reminder to live it fully, as we did at the legendary 2005 Stanford commencement speech? Once you look at Steve this way you realize that not just his products were works of art—but his leadership itself. Like his technology, his leadership was both beautiful and functional. The iPad was an interface with the world out there.

Steve the leader was an interface that connected us with our inner world. Like great leaders before him, his presence was a mirror in which we hoped to see our future. Steve embodied principles which we need to believe are possible at this point in time: The idea that work and passion can go hand-in-hand. That success can be a consequence of a life lived fully. That who we are can shape our work roles, and not the other way around. That being authentic can be rewarded, and enduring derision and failure without losing faith is ultimately worth it.

That the true measure of success is how much meaning your work brings to yourself and others. Steve’s life and work were a master’s performance. Here’s hoping they inspire a movement. Gianpiero Petriglieri, M.D. is associate professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, and visiting professor of Organizational Behavior at the Harvard Business School. + Comment now

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