Some of my most popular posts are the ones where I casually mention Steve Jobs. Why? Everyone is trying to figure out what leadership traits (or skills) Steve Jobs has and what they can learn from them. A quick look at Jobs’ profile will lead one to believe that his charisma, “presentation skills”, and his personality drove Apple to its current success. I’d beg to differ.
I don’t need to recite the bio of Steve Jobs, nor the history of Apple. Newspapers have already done that. We just need to separate Jobs’ accomplishments at Apple from his personality.
If we put his real world successes on one side and his amazed audiences on another–one thing becomes apparent: Jobs has the ability to get things done. It’s his best leadership skill. He has the power to mobilize people around his agenda and bring it into reality.
His personality, while helping him earn credibility, is not solely responsible for turning his innovative computer company into a household name. He still needed to map the political terrain and figure out who he should spend his time with, what his priorities were, and produce a product. He needed real nuts and bolts skills to move his various agendas.
Jobs’ galvanizing personality has been the subject of many discussions, blogs, and even the theme of a newly released book. Jobs’ stage presence can teach public speakers more about the complicated craft and his passion can show young entrepreneurs that energy is essential to business. What is lost though, when we solely concentrate on his personality rather then his actions, is the day-to-day skills and obstacles of leadership. A focus on personality takes for granted the slow, but necessary, process of building coalitions and momentum in order to effect change.
I always tell my students, when we discuss leadership, that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t just responsible for making inspiring speeches. Instead, he spent the majority of his time talking to people, building coalitions, and organizing communities one person at a time. His true leadership skills were employed when he brought people together on a personal level and moved his powerful agenda forward. His stirring and powerful speeches helped his cause, but were hardly its main force.
It’s a perfect example of people’s misconceptions of leadership. Leaders aren’t always captivating public speakers. They don’t always pack over-sized personalities. They are simply the people who can have an idea and get it done. Everything else is nice, but hardly necessary.