From the president’s chair

Learning from the visionary leadership of Steve Jobs

 

Special to the Miami Herald

Last weekend, my 15-year-old son and I went to see the movie Jobs, based on the life and times of Steve Jobs — the late entrepreneur, master marketer, inventor and co-founder of one of the most successful companies and recognizable brands in the world: Apple Computers. Jobs passed away on Oct. 5, 2011.

I have to admit that a part of me was hoping for a fairytale account of Jobs’ meteoric rise, consistent with Apple’s shiny brand image and the mostly positive media attention he garnered throughout his career, and use his life story as the basis for a conversation with my son on Steve Jobs’ “best-practices.” Instead, the movie portrayed a terribly flawed individual — which I appreciate because, at the end of the day, aren’t we all? — but I didn’t want my son to think that pursuing a goal with blind ambition at the expense of one’s obligations to family and friends was a prerequisite for success.

When I asked my son what he thought about Steve Jobs as portrayed in the movie he said, “There were things that he did in his career which I agree with, and there were things that he did which I strongly disagree with.”

Today let’s focus on the things Jobs did in his career which my son and I agree with. In particular, I want to focus on two specific qualities that made Steve Jobs a truly visionary leader — positive qualities that we can all emulate as we strive to lead our own organizations (and raise our kids).

Create the Vision

“We started out to get a computer in the hands of everyday people, and we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” How do you measure the importance of vision as a leadership quality? While the overly sophisticated business types focus on the more quantifiable, statistical aspects of leadership, for Steve Jobs, vision was the genesis of… everything.

By the same token, one’s timing is critical, and understanding market conditions is essential to analyze objectively the impact of a leader’s vision on the success of his or her organization. Certainly today, Jobs’ vision of “a personal computer for everyone” would have zero impact, but in 1975, when the computer industry was, as Jobs put it, “young and idealistic,” it created a revolution which, quite literally, changed the world. In so doing, it turned Apple into a business icon, and Jobs into a genius.

Timing and understanding market conditions were two vision-related qualities that Steve Jobs had in abundance — and they continue to guide Apple today. In fact, with the introduction of the iPod, iPhone and iPad, one could argue that Apple is living that vision of a personal computer for everyone more fully today than ever before, much to the delight of shareholders and consumers. As of this writing, even years after Jobs’ death, Apple is the most valuable company in the world passing Exxon (yet again) with a market cap of nearly $415 billion.

Communicate

Steve Jobs didn’t only provide the vision, the roadmap, to where Apple was headed — he made sure everyone understood it, both inside and outside the company. When your company’s products are perfectly aligned with your company’s vision, you’re going to want to let the world know about both.

It doesn’t hurt that Jobs knew exactly how to work a crowd. His choreographed presentations and staged product launches are legendary, and although his flashy showmanship earned him his fair share of critics, his team and his customers loved it. This guy created buzz — not just about products, but about Apple. As a result, Apple’s marketing strategies get people talking about the next product offering months before a single unit is sold — and before a single dollar is spent on advertising the product. The customers become voluntary advocates, actively spreading the word on behalf of the company. That’s effective communication, and the results speak for themselves.

Clear vision. Clear communication. Just two of the more positive attributes that contributed to Steve Jobs’ genius — and something you and I can work on improving this very day.

When Jobs retired as CEO of Apple just months before his death, I remember wondering what kind of impact his resignation would have on the company. Then I remembered an old saying, “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on…” Months later, at the news of Jobs’ passing, I wondered whether Apple would be able to move on. Thus far, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes” because Jobs built an enduring organization around a clear and purposeful vision that everyone around him embraced — and they continue to embrace to this day.

Yes, the dogs barked, but the caravan still moves on.

Manny García-Tuñón is a columnist for El Nuevo Herald and president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm headquartered in Miami. He can be reached at manny@mgtunon.com and at www.mgtunon.com

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