Leadership The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation – interview with ex-SVP of Apple, Jay Elliot

11 Jun
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By Olga Kostrova, co-founder and COO of SocialAgenda Media.

Jay Elliot, author of "The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation"

Jay Elliot, author of “The Steve Jobs Way…”

This is a continuation of the interview with Jay Elliot (please read part 1 here Building brand the Steve Jobs Way), former Senior Vice President for Apple, the author of worldwide best sellers “The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation” and “Leading Apple with Steve Jobs” who is now represented by SocialAgenda Media as a speaker.

Olga Kostrova: Lao Tzu said “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”. People believe this doesn’t apply to Jobs’ leadership style. What can you say about it?  

Jay Elliot: Yes, this was not Steve’s way; he was a dynamic leader and people knew his every thought about what the direction needed to be. He was always there representing the user in all aspects of the product, and that was the inspiration that people followed. Yes, people were free to develop the product/technology but they all knew what Steve wanted.

Olga Kostrova: Peter Drucker said “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” How did this translate or not in Jobs’ world?

Jay Elliot: This was very true because Steve gave almost impossible goals, with impossible timelines, but people responded because they saw the big picture of the product and how the users loved it. Once in a meeting the engineers did not get the iPod small enough and said that was as small as they could make it. Steve dropped in into an aquarium in the room and bubbles came out. Steve said “See there is still wasted space”. It was this kind of simple example that highly motivated innovation and people.

Also, Olga, I have sent to you parts of my book where I had an argument with Peter Drucker over Functional vs Product organizations. (Editorial note: I will publish this in an upcoming article)

Olga Kostrova: Warren Bennis’s opinion is “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born”. Would you agree with it in relation to Jobs? From what you know about Steve’s life what do you think made him the leader who became an icon?

Jay Elliot: I disagree, it’s not about being born or made. It is a transition of events that require you to take charge. Tom Watson Jr took over IBM from his father, so he had been made to do that. Steve Jobs on the other hand had to manage a series of events where he found out that his voice was more heard than others. It is about who is going to listen to you. I as a teenager was always given the leader job. Where did that come from? It came because I was always a responsible child that did what I needed to keep our farm business going. When this great idea of the Apple II took off it gave Steve great opportunity to be heard above others. It’s the voice that counts.

Olga Kostrova: Ralph Nader said, “I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers”. Would you say the results that Jobs got from his well-known micromanagement style agree with this notion?

Jay Elliot: Steve’s style was about product micromanagement, not micromanagement; that is where everybody does not understand. And people learned from that. Most of these people do not understand. Actually, Ralph was on a very specific mission that met this idea.

Olga Kostrova: Ken Kesey said “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” What are your thoughts on that in relation to Apple management as you remember it?

Jay Elliot: Apple was a product centric company, it all revolved around the product. So this statement applies to the fact that Steve set the roadmap for where the product was going and what the user could expect. He usually had 3-5 visions of what users could expect from Apple.

Olga Kostrova: Author John Maxwell said “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” Does your observation agree in Steve’s case, and if so what characteristics (real or perceived based on media coverage) made him magnetize billions of people?

Jay Elliot: No, I do not agree with this statement. Steve’s vision was really the essence of his leadership. When I met Steve I was 14 years older, he virtually had no experience to reflect leadership, it was his vision that I bought into. The leadership came later with the experience as part of the vision.  All the cult-user members bought into the amazing products and Steve as their cult leader.

Olga Kostrova: Author Max Lucado said “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” Are there events during Jobs’ leadership that demonstrate this and if so, to what effect?

Jay Elliot: This very much applies to Steve’s leadership. He was building products for the consumers, as he was the number one consumer, so his back was to the crowd. Remember, all the pundits said the Apple store was going to fail, but Steve knew the crowd would flock to it to see the great products he was building for them. It really was not a store but a demo center for the users. Apple stores today get about $8,000 per square foot in sales; the next closest one is Tiffany’ at $3,000 per square foot in sales.

Olga Kostrova: General Colin Powell said “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” How did Jobs manage to align his design teams to accomplish this?

Jay Elliot: Again, he connected everyone to the product, which was the simplicity of the culture of Apple. All teams were product centric and user simplicity was the goal of all the teams. This was not easy because if you disagreed with a product feature it was hard to sometimes change Steve’s mind. One of the big issues I, and the design team, had with Steve was not to include a fan in the first Mac. Heat had to be dissipated without a fan, almost impossible, but Steve did not want the fan. Overtime, he was right, since all Apple products do not have the annoying fan sound. But at the moment it did not work in the original Macs.

Olga Kostrova: Colin Powell also said “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership”. What feedback loop did Apple have to be proactive for problem solving on the product design level, in marketing and in other functions?

Jay Elliot: Design meetings at all levels were the culture of Apple. These meetings were simple, short, but very to the point of what problem needed to be focused on. Another part of the meeting was “show and tell”, you needed to have prototypes of what you were responsible for, cables, boxes, ads, it was all about the complete eco system. The importance part of the process was that all parts of the company knew that their part of the product/user process was as important as any others. Marketing, Sales, and even Admin functions has the same quality expectations that the Engineering group had.

Olga Kostrova: Stephen Covey said “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” What are your observations in relation to Jobs defining Apple’s culture?

Jay Elliot: The product vision was one of the key parts of the Apple culture and the essence of all communications to employees. The product introduction sessions with the press, shareholders, and employees were the key indicators of what the vision was and where it was going. Every employee in Apple was expected to use the product, totally understand it and be able to use it. This was a great way to integrate vision as part of the culture. I understand today they are integrating Steve’s vision into what is called Apple University – a program I invented in 1983.

Olga Kostrova: By being projected upon by Steve Jobs every day, what did you learn about yourself during your years working side by side with him?

Jay Elliot: A key term here is working with him. What I learned is that the key to our relationship was to be very relevant to every aspect of what you are doing and be completely product centric to what you are doing. I also learned that inside me was a very creative person, and an entrepreneur that wanted to get out and work on my own. I did not want to work for someone but wanted to work for myself, this was the great insight I had working with Steve. Be yourself. This was the big misconception about Steve, he brought out the best in you, but in a totally different way. It wasn’t about some intimate relationship; it was about making a product to change the world. Almost like the Wizard of Oz.

Olga Kostrova: You have spoken to hundreds of thousands of people around the world about your books and the story of Apple. How have audience questions or reactions to your story changed the way you see the history of Apple, as well as Jobs and your role in it?

Jay Elliot: While in Apple from 1980 to 1987 I could not see the significance of what and how we were operating and over the next 20 years, its eventual impact on the world. It’s hard to recognize greatness when it is a daily occurrence, and I have been somewhat surprised in the reaction to my books and Steve. The Apple story and his integral part of all of it is why I wrote the books. Apples and Steve’s success are not luck, it was well orchestrated!

Olga Kostrova: What is your next step, next book, next song, next love?  :-)

Jay Elliot: Several things, 1. I am starting a new company in an area I have great passion for, Healthcare. My company is called iMedGo, making health information relevant and at your fingertips. 2. I am writing another book, “The Entreprenurial Journey”, the working title. How to recognize if you are an entrepreneur and tips on being one. 3. Keeping closer to my family and helping my wife, boys, animals, live a better life.

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What great insights! I would like to express my gratitude to Jay for what he shared in this interview and in his books. And a question to readers, did it illuminate something for you? Destroy any of your illusions and misperceptions? Do you find yourself inspired about something? Please share, don’t be shy…

And of course, if you feel Jay could add value to your event and speak in front of your audiences, connect with me or other team members to book him. We’ll make things happen for you. Thank you for sharing 10 intimate minutes with us  :-)

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