Perspectives on Steve Jobs as Employee, Manager & Leader (Post 3 of 5)

SCENE 2 – Steve As Manager – APPLE (JOBS 2013)

Steve’s Mercedes Benz spins around the corner of the Apple Inc. parking lot, and pulls into the parking spot closest to the front door; marked handicapped. Steve trudges through the center aisle of the Apple office, passing cubicle after cubicle, never looking up to make eye contact; he stares fixated at the floor, reeling and introspective. The office is quiet, the employees are cautious. Some stare with amazement, others seem afraid.

Jobs begins his day with an engineering meeting. He stands in the center of the bright white room in front of the whiteboard. The “Lisa” computer team quietly stands side-by-side, attentively listening. Steve stands before them like a preacher, speaking philosophically about the “Lisa”. A confused, tired and seemingly frustrated engineer raises his hand, “Wait – are we still talking about the Command problems?” Jobs replies, “Bill, we’re talking about everything.” Jobs continues on, and boasts that the Apple brand has “bravado”. He tells the room of engineers,

“If we want to stay there, we have to risk everything. Great artists risk everything… We have to make the small things unforgettable.”

Jobs soon hears that the team did not develop a range of font types in the operating system, a specific request he had made of the Lisa. The tired engineer speaks up, “Everything we’ve been talking about has been conceptual. And I’m sorry, The type face isn’t exactly a pressing issue.” Jobs stares the engineer down and proclaims, “Everything is a pressing issue. If we want to make this vision a reality, we have to put in the hours to make something great.” With the engineer continuing to show exhausted resistance in the wake of pressing deadlines from the business, Jobs fires him in front of the team, “If you don’t share our enthusiasm and care for the vision of this company – get your shit and get out. You’re done!” Jobs turns back to the remainder of the team, “This can’t happen again. SO FIX IT.”

The Competing Values Framework is an integrated management model produced to reflect how efficiency, innovation, adaptability and stability can be achieved through effectual management. I studied the CVF in Professor Janet Greco’s “Perspectives on Organizational Dynamics” course at UPenn, through the reading of Robert E. Quinn’s “Becoming a Master Manager“.

Competing Values Framework

In an experimental survey I conducted of how Jobs functions as a manager per The Competing Values Management Model, he falls very highly into the “Create” and “Control” quadrants. Jobs’ performance as a manager is well expressed in the scene above. He provides no clear direction and he assumes the room can translate his poetic and ambitious visions to tangible working results (Apple employees began to refer to this as Jobs’ “reality distortion field” noted in Issacson’s book) . Meanwhile, these engineers are being pressed by the business to complete the computer to get it to market, and Jobs’ idealistic expectations continue to push out the plausible date of completion. Jobs could inspire, and use his power and reputation to intimidate for perfectionism in employees, but his ineffective communication, misalignment with the business needs and inability to understand others thwarts his ability to lead execution – as “Manager”.

If we look through the lens of management innovation, Jobs takes these terms to the extreme. He seeks to empower through passion, push the boundaries of bureaucracy and deny power from the business. His radical approach connected with some employees, but made others resentful. By focusing so much energy towards innovation, the lag in structured project management induced major risks to the business and ultimately at this point in time Microsoft beat Apple to market, and this fault led to the dismissal of Jobs at Apple. In my opinion, during this time in Jobs’ career, it would have been advantageous to the organization for Jobs to have been assigned a designated “number 2”. Someone who could have translated Steve’s rants into executable tasks for the team in order to hit business deadlines while ensuring Jobs’ requirements were baked in to the work. The person would have to be someone in which Jobs respected and trusted. This person came along when Jobs returned to Apple as CEO many years later, Jony Ive.


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