Steve Jobs: leader, lunatic or a lil’ of both?

I finished the Steve Jobs book last week. My first reaction was, what a complicated, confusing and brilliant man. And, what a jerk!

The book affirmed all that I had heard about how miserable he was to work with and for. The reality distortion field that he lived in created an atmosphere that would either (1) make it miserable to go to work every morning—that is, if you were fortunate enough to actually leave the office—or (2) drive you to work the hardest you ever had.

The book also makes it painfully obvious that same reality distortion field contributed quite a bit to his sickness and eventual death.

At the same time, these are the things that helped him to be successful. His continual drive to make great products instead of making a ton of money (not that he didn’t do both) really has changed the way we live and function today—no matter what tool you are using to read this blog, his fingerprints are all over the technology that created it. There’s a good chance he was the most influential visionary of this century.

And while I may disagree with much of his leadership style, it worked. I am convinced that his well-known tirades, bipolar emotions and self-absorption had a lot to do with making Apple a great company.

But that got me thinking all sorts of things: Was Steve Jobs a great leader or just a great visionary? Are the two at all separate? Does one have to be a visionary to lead? Is it possible to be a great visionary and terrible leader? Steve jobs got his people to buy into his vision, but is it really buying in if you just fire everyone that disagrees with you?

As a pastor, I’m often asked to lead in one way or another and I’m constantly trying to become better at it (whether that is reading or getting feedback from mentors). I couldn’t help but read this book with my role in mind. No, I’m not dealing with customers in the church (the whole CEO Pastor, church-consumer culture drives me a little crazy to be honest), but I am dealing with people.

Any sales or marketing guru would tell you, after believing in your product, knowing how to relate to and work with people (i.e. your customers) is most important. Leadership is a field that crosses into any industry that involves people, including the Church (yes, I understand the irony of writing that I don’t like church-consumer culture and then calling ministry an industry in the next breath).

Try this: Throw out his new age and messed up spirituality (which brings up another and maybe more important question: can you separate a leader from his/her beliefs?) and ask what a church would look like with a Jobsesque leader at the helm. He was a dynamic communicator, a refreshing visionary and millions of people followed him. But does that mean he left us with any concrete lesson about leadership?

At the end of the book, Isaacoson gave Jobs a chance to reflect on his legacy in his own words. There are good quotes throughout the entire book, many of which could apply to how pastor’s lead, but these two at the end particularly grabbed my attention:

Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.

I hate it when people call themselves “entrepreneurs” when what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company which is the hardest work in the business. That’s how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before. You build a company that will stand for something a generation or two from now.

NOTE: I saw this book, at the bookstore on Saturday. I probably won’t read it, but it is clearl that many think Jobs has revolutionized the way one leads.