RIP Steve Jobs

I learned of the passing of Steve Jobs at 1:32am IST. An email was sent out by one of my classmates stating “RIP Steve Jobs” with a YouTube video of his famous One More Thing tagline. Sadly, there will be no more “things” from Steve Jobs, but his legacy will live on for decades to come.

As an MBA student, Apple and Steve Jobs are regular players in many of our classroom discussions. I have only been in the program for a little over 4 weeks and am already at a loss to count how many times he has been used an example. Whether we are discussing the attributes of a good presenter, strategy in supply chain management, or innovative thinking, he can be used to illustrate any of these points, for better or worse.

The irony that he never actually completed more than a semester of college while we are all spending thousands of Euro/Dollars/Rupees, etc. is not lost on us. It seems to be in line within the pattern that the greatest innovative thinkers of today (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg) are not born in a classroom. Perhaps even, arguably the opposite.

Last week one of my MBA colleagues sent out the famous Stanford graduation speech as motivational reminder of the strength of perseverance (most likely in the face of our first group paper for Corporate Financial Reporting which had many of us rethinking our decision to pursue an MBA). This speech got me thinking about the leadership style of Steve Jobs, and how it both hurt and helped him in his professional journey.

During our Career Leader PPD workshop, we broke into groups of three to evaluate our interests, skills, and motivators as they relate to our future careers. It was determined by my group that I do not enjoy managing people and need to work in a high-performing environment where I am able to work autonomously. They discerned that I have confidence that my decisions are usually best and am not afraid of the conflict that may arise by asserting my opinion.  This led my group to jokingly refer to me as a “b***h”. Though I completely understand that it was said in jest, I know that this idea is not limited to the people in my group, and I take issue with this on a few levels.

In business it seems that strong women are often brushed off in this way. But I argue that in order for a woman to achieve professional success, she needs to assert herself, be confident, and be ready and able to deal with opposing views. Of course, these qualities are not limited to women, but it seems that while men are admired for their drive and determination, women are often vilified for it and categorized as “bitchy”. I am not soft and cuddly, I never have been, and I do not apologize for it.

This does not, however, mean that I am not a people person. I do not think that one personality trait necessarily excludes the other. In fact, I truly enjoy working with people, and feel that I have a talent for building and maintaining long-term meaningful relationships. I also enjoy teaching and collaboration. The qualifying point to this, however, is that I do not enjoy working with people who do not want to learn, are unable to compromise, or are not self-motivated. In short, I do not want to babysit or molly-coddle the people I work with. I expect my colleagues to be adults, therefore I function best in teams of mutual respect. I am open-minded, but it does not mean that others easily influence me. I enjoy surrounding myself with people who have different opinions from me (I am often the minority opinion in most debates with my friends) because I like to hear a respectful debate of how other people think and arrive at conclusions.

I am fairly aware of my strengths and weaknesses (is anyone completely aware?) and the MBA program is helping me to become more mindful. I am okay with not liking someone or something. Regardless of my personal feelings, I will always be professional and respectful. I do, however, need to work on not letting everyone know when I am not pleased about something as I have the direct opposite of a “poker face”. But while some people would see my assertiveness and confidence as a weakness, I do not. I feel that I am able to strike the right balance between assertive and “bitchy”. Confidence is fine, as long as you can back it up with performance.

And this is what I take away from Steve Jobs. Yes, he was known for his innovative and out of the box thinking, but was certainly not known for his “touchy-feely” management style. There are many tales of how tough he was to work for because he believed that he was right, always knew best, and was not the finest compromiser. But the thing is, he was right, he did know best, and because of that did not need to compromise. Whether these stores are true or not, I take with a grain of salt, but the basic premise is the same: no, you cannot be an effective manager by ruling with an iron fist, but at the same time, it is difficult to be a visionary and realize that vision if you are worried about hurt feelings. Steve Jobs never demanded more than he was willing to give. He was tough but fair. He inspired creativity and effort by pushing people to give more than they ever thought they could. I truly believe that if you give people the chance to rise to the occasion, they will; and those who do not, will not, or cannot, will and should be left behind (for all you Darwinians out there, think “survival of the fittest”). Steve Jobs never accepted mediocrity, not from himself, and certainly not from his employees. So if those are the qualities that make a bitch, then I suppose I will gladly take the compliment.

– Nicole Blair, FT MBA 2011/2012