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If Steve Jobs Couldn't Delegate You Couldn't Read This On Your iPhone!

4 April 2016

Few business leaders have had as much coverage and profiling as Steve Jobs. His achievements as leader of the most successful technology brand on the planet are incredible and his legacy as a great innovator is held in the same esteem as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney. The scale of his success at Apple and Pixar has literally transformed the way we live. He has been behind the transformation of several industries including personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing. Not bad for a college drop out.

For a leader to achieve so much, it is little wonder that his style has been the subject of widely documented analysis. It’s fair to say that as a leader, while his achievements are unquestionable, his style was controversial and often splits opinion. Indeed, many readers will scoff at this title and refute the claim that he ever delegated anything.

It is widely reported that Jobs was autocratic, highly demanding and challenging to work for. He would openly and harshly criticise his staff publicly and many say that he instilled fear and isolated many of his employees. His controversial leadership style was largely responsible for him being ousted from Apple in 1985 during his first tenure with the company, but his redeeming qualities saw him return to rescue the business in 1997.

Jobs has many inspiring leadership credentials. He was a visionary with an amazingly creative talent, he was highly passionate with an ability to engage his audience and articulate his vision. He was unequivocally dedicated, focusing the majority of his time to work often at the expense of his family or his leisure. However, despite some commentators suggesting he was an autocratic egomaniac, I believe one of his greatest leadership credentials was his ability to delegate.

There are various approaches to delegating. Richard Branson’s hands-off approach, perhaps the more purist form of delegation, is in fairly stark contrast to Steve Jobs’ version. Despite the differences in approach, the fundamentals of delegation remain the same. Delegating by definition is ‘the assignment of responsibility or authority to another person to carry out specific activities’.

While Steve Jobs is regarded as the man behind some of the modern world’s greatest technological innovations, he wasn’t an engineer and didn’t input any of the software into these developments. If Steve Jobs couldn’t delegate, you might not be able to read this on your iPhone!

Some of the key lessons from Steve Jobs on effective delegation include:

Create a Vision

Before you can effectively delegate you must have a clear idea of what you are aiming to achieve. When you have a vision you can start to put the pieces together and determine what work needs to be delegated to who.

Recruit The Best People

You can only be confident in delegating tasks when you trust your team to follow through. Jobs may have constantly challenged his team but they wouldn’t have been there if he couldn’t rely on them to deliver.

Bring People Along

You have to bring your team along on the journey and keep them harnessed to the vision. It is said that while many people found working for Jobs as difficult, they were compelled by the vision to stay.

Listen and Learn

There is little sense in hiring the best people and containing their talent. Jobs encouraged people to challenge the status quo and, despite some evidence to the contrary, liked to listen and learn from others.

Review and Challenge

Getting the balance between empowering others and micro-managing is critical. While empowerment gives individuals autonomy to achieve something towards the wider vision, it is important to review progress and often challenge them. This not only helps to keep the vision on track but encourages higher standards.

Steve Job's legacy will have an impact on leadership for generations. He will be remembered for his creativity, his passion, his visionary courage and his charisma but we shouldn't underestimate his ability to effectively delegate.

The next part of the 'Traits of and Effective Leader' series will focus on ‘Empathy’ and a feature another high profile leader.


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