Leadership Lessons from Apple CEO Steve Jobs

What can CIOs learn about leadership from Apple CEO Steve Jobs? Plenty. Executive leadership guru Paul David Walker says tech execs should take cues from his marketing savvy and confidence. But leave the arrogance at home.

Thu, July 28, 2011

CIO — Great leaders like Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs are supreme visionaries and marketing geniuses, says executive leadership expert Paul David Walker, author of Unleashing Genius (Morgan James Publishing, 2008). In order to be better leaders, CIOs need to become more like them.

But beware the leader's fatal flaw: A fiery ego can send valuable employees fleeing for the door, which may result in a succession-plan vacuum, Walker says.

To become better leaders, CIOs must walk a fine line between understanding and acting upon the extraordinary nature of their geniuses while having the humility and patience that comes with being a subordinate to the CEO.

Walker, a self-described Apple fan, has been coaching executives on leadership for three decades. In an interview with CIO.com, he draws leadership lessons from Apple and Jobs.

What is your impression of Jobs as a leader?

Walker: Steve Jobs is one of the most powerful visionary leaders of our day. He's highly intellectual and able to stimulate new markets. He has also been able to gain the loyalty of brilliant engineers.

That's really tough because engineers generally think everyone is an idiot but them. Leading a group like that takes a lot of skill.

CIOs also must lead smart technical people. How can they do this better?

Walker: Engineers respect intellectual acumen and cognitive skills. Most engineers have great ideas but no market acumen.

Jobs genuinely loves technology and is probably in the upper 2 percent of people in the world, in terms of marketing. Engineers respect leaders who love technology and can take their ideas and turn it into a product that sells.

In this way, Steve Jobs is an engineer's greatest ally.

As a leader, Jobs has been criticized for his fiery temper. How does this play into leadership?

Walker: Only about 5 percent of people can imagine something, play with it in their mind and visualize the outcome. Invariably, a leader that smart doesn't understand why other people don't get it because it seems so obvious.

When leaders see employees who don't get it, they get very frustrated and aggressive with them. That can upset people because their egos get challenged. As you know, Rob Johnson, Apple's retail chief, left. He had created brilliant retail stores. Apple's vice president of global marketing and communications, Alison Johnson, left.

I just think it's a weakness that really smart leaders have.

Humility is a harder trait to develop. In order to develop a successful succession process, you have to develop some level of humility so that you can have people behind you who can pick up the ball when you leave.

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