Farewell to an Authentic Leader: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was one of my heroes. Clad in his trademark black shirt and blue jeans while presenting the latest Apple product, he gave the impression of being an authentic leader, quintessentially himself without subterfuge.

His death saddened me tremendously, even though I suspected it was eminent. As one of the millions in mourning because of his transition, I was drawn to a recent article entitled, “Why Is Everyone So Upset by Steve Jobs’ Death?

When Michael Jackson transitioned, many people asked the same thing.  “He was only a singer and a dancer,” some said. “What is all the uproar about?”  I can only surmise that those who asked that question were not familiar with Michael’s music or his message of “heal the world” that still resonate with millions of people around the globe.

So here we go again. A popular icon passes on, millions go in mourning, and a commentator is now asking why is everyone so upset.

The commentator, Constantine Von Hoffman, offers his own conclusion:

“Jobs and Apple were synonymous with each other in the public eye. Because so many of us own iPods and iPhones we feel a connection to the company. The company was named Apple to give it a friendly, approachable identity. The company’s hallmark is devices with a great user interface. They are all about ease of use. They make our lives easier/nicer, so in some way we think they are caring for us.

“Expressing sentiment over Jobs’ death is also acknowledging our emotional attachment to that microchip which has done so much for us. And which we will throw away as soon as the new model comes out.”

Perhaps that’s true for some people.  My reaction goes much deeper than that, though, based on my history with Apple computers and Jobs.

My husband and I were early Apple uses, starting off with the Apple 1 in the 1980s, way before the Macintosh. We eschewed the PC (which then required understanding DOS to do anything significant with it) in favor of Apple despite the objections and disdain of our colleagues and even some friends. We did so because Apple 1 and then the Mac were indisputably better products.

Eventually, I was required by my university to drop the Mac and switch to the PC because they said they couldn’t support two operating systems. The few of us who were Mac users argued and objected to no avail.  If we were using university dollars, we had to buy a Windows-based PC.

Around the same time period, Diallo, my husband, had a similar experience with a major corporation. They gave all new employees a PC to work on. Diallo discovered an unused Mac in the back room and brought it to his desk and started using it.  A few days later, he was told to return the Mac to the back room and use the PC instead. Why?  “Because if you start using the Mac, everyone will want one, and we don’t want to support it,” he was told. At the time IBM was king in the computing world. It was safe and it was known.  Even though they knew that the Mac was a superior product, the company didn’t want to put their stamp on an unknown upstart like Apple.

Even today, whenever I use my PC and have to close out a folder or shut down a document before I can throw it in the recycling bin or send it to someone, I miss my Mac. If I try to copy a file from some device to my PC and it starts copying and then in the middle of copying tells me that I don’t have enough disk space, I miss my Mac because it did those calculations first before wasting my time. If I want to move my whole file set and operating system to another hard drive on Windows, I have to spend hours rebuilding and reinstalling everything.  On the Mac, I could just copy all the files over and boot without a hitch.

I could fill pages with more examples. While the Mac was an acknowledged superior product, we were each told by our organizations that we couldn’t use it in our work because the known was preferred over the unknown.

Jobs emphasized the customer experience above all else.  He was even fired for it, yet he persisted in this one principle through failures and successes, and he prevailed.  He built all of his companies on his vision of a world where technology served human beings and not the other way around.

If you want to understand what Steve Jobs means to people like my husband and me, go back to that famous 1984 Superbowl commercial where greyed out people were listening to a man, Big Brother, on a huge screen.  Big Brother declared, “We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology — where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths.”  A woman jogger, clad in a white tank top and red shorts and chased by automatons, runs in quietly. She throws a sledge hammer at the screen, destroying it.

Now think of a tiny group of faculty members trying in vain to get their institution to support the Mac, or an employee at a corporation being told to return a brand new, unused Mac to the backroom and instead do his work on a clunky PC.  If you can imagine us feeling like pests purveying contradictory truths, you will have the idea.

Neither Steve Jobs nor Apple were perfect. Any company of Apple’s size will have its issues. I’ll leave it to others to chronicle any of their serious transgressions. I don’t believing in letting the thorn overwhelm the beauty of the bloom.

Jobs committed his life and his talents to excellence, service, innovation, and commitment to his ideals despite all obstacles. As an authentic leader, he was an inspiration to millions, including me. I salute him.

4 Comments

  1. Carole Marmell

    Reply

    I don’t have the same loyalty to Apple that you do, opting for the cheaper of the two and dealing with the consequences. But I also venerated Jobs.

    Sometimes his arrogance frustrated me — as when he stopped putting a floppy disk drive in Apple computers at a time when most of us still used floppies. He had a vision. How many of us give up our visions in the service of reality? How many of us succeed despite almost universal opposition? I admire the man for not taking shortcuts, and not making compromises.

    (I hasten to add that this applies only in the world of products, where I’m free to choose. It does not apply to political ideologues who would impose their uncompromising views on me.)

    • Jean L.

      Reply

      You make a wonderful distinction, Uncompromising vision in pursuit of one’s ideals is quite different than imposing political views on another.

      People are indeed free to choose his products. The new Iphone4s sold 1 million on the very first day it was released last week. I’m on that list since the smartphone I have suddenly starting leaving my reply e-mails stuck in its outbox.

      What to do about differing political views, however, is another better, since people on both sides of the fence (in our currently polarized state) each do fervently believe in their vision of the country’s future. But that’s another discussion.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Bill Brenneman

    Reply

    Jean,

    Thanks for your piece on Steve Jobs. It is much better than many pieces I have read in the press in the aftermath of Jobs’ passing. I agree with Carole that he was not a “nice guy.” I don’t think I would have enjoyed working with him. But somebody that brilliant doesn’t need my permission if he is capable at such a high level and those who were able to stick with him loved him for who and what he was.

    Jobs contibution will be sorely missed by our economy and our country right now. Innovation is what has kept us competetive as a nation. Such a loss in the profit above all, “Walmarted” globalized economy can only hurt us.

    By the way, the same thing that happened to you and Diallo happened to me at my company. I was too overwhelmed at the time to keep my Apple while I was forced to use a Microsoft system at work. I wish I had been able to manage both at once. It might have saved me a lot of time and put me ahead later on. I am now back with an Apple. You and Diallo were in the lead, alright.

    Thanks again,

    Bill Brenneman

  3. Jean L.

    Reply

    So you had to give up your Mac too? It wasn’t fun, was it?

    As for Jobs not being a “nice guy,” I had heard vague references to this as well, although not in enough detail to talk about it. And you are right, it is enough that those who stuck with him probably appreciated him for the multiplicity of benefits that he brought to the table.

    Thanks, Bill.

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