Steve Jobs was one of those rare souls who will likely be as influential in death as he was in life, because he was a living legend who also left behind an enduring legacy. As Jobs’ successor at Apple, Tim Cook, explained “Steve built a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that – it is in our DNA.”

Raised on Cultural and Technological Innovation

That Steve Jobs DNA traces its hereditary roots to Santa Clara County, CA, an area now known as part of Silicon Valley – thanks in large part to Jobs’ creative inventions. He spent his childhood there, coming of age at the geographical and social epicenter of the 1960s San Francisco antiestablishment revolution. He was inspired by that historical movement to reexamine the conventional world around him – and to ultimately redesign it with his signature blend of artistry, technology, and people-focused functionality.

Like his lifelong competitor Bill Gates, Jobs attended college for a while but soon dropped out to pursue other passions. He experimented, as did many others of his generation, with everything from spirituality and religion to psychedelia and counterculture. Jobs’ favorite band was the Beatles, and following in the footsteps of the Fab Four he trekked to India to pursue his lifelong quest for philosophical answers and to try to satisfy an insatiable curiosity about life.

He was even inspired to name his company Apple, after the Beatles’ Apple Corps, a decision that got him sued for brand copyright infringement by his musical heroes. But leaders know how to negotiate challenges and disagreements in ways that make everyone a winner. Jobs did that in legendary fashion, eventually settling the perennial dispute with Apple Corps by signing the music company to an exclusive digital distribution deal with Apple iTunes.

Leading from the Trenches

Jobs not only knew how to turn adversity into success, but also how to transform apparent failure into extraordinary achievement. When the first Apple retail store opened many people derided it as a failure waiting to happen, but within 10 years there were hundreds of wildly profitable Apple stores in prestigious locations.

Jobs also knew how it felt to suffer the private disappointment and public humiliation of being tossed out of his own company in the mid 1980s. Rather than retreat in bitterness or compete out of spite, however, he accepted an invitation to return and revive Apple from the verge of ruin and bankruptcy. With outstanding determination he quickly repositioned the floundering company as the most admired, respected, and valuable technology leader in the world.

Jobs also appreciated the value of leading by coaching and encouraging, and he gave supportive credit to his teams for Apple’s amazing revival. To ensure that such dynamic interpersonal mentorship from the trenches could continue within the ranks of an ever-expanding organization, he wisely opened the groundbreaking Apple University.

“This is not a one-man show,” he pointed out to BusinessWeek Magazine. “What’s reinvigorating this company is two things: One, there’s a lot of really talented people in this company who listened to the world tell them they were losers for a couple of years, and some of them were on the verge of starting to believe it themselves. But they’re not losers. What they didn’t have was a good set of coaches, a good plan.”

Launching the “I” Generation

Jobs exemplified leadership creativity, and he himself said that the quality that distinguishes leaders from followers is innovation. “Apple is about people who think outside the box,” he told Time Magazine, “people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.”

The products that Apple has launched have revolutionized not only the workplace but also our homes, the way we interact socially, and the way we view our relationship with technology.

“A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them,” Jobs said in a BusinessWeek interview. But Apple customers always recognized and resonated with those fantastic tools when Jobs unveiled them. That’s because he and his enterprise made sophisticated science user-friendly, and they made necessary technology sleek, elegant, fun, and sexy.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Job continued to take calculated risks beyond his comfort zone, right up until the end. “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good,” he told NBC in 2006, “then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”

An Undying Leadership Legacy

Jobs lived life on his own terms, and by doing so he left a magnificent sustainable legacy. “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” he famously said.

In his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, Jobs advised new graduates, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”

Meanwhile Jobs explained that all external expectations and fears of embarrassment or failure fall away in the face of death. What is left is what is truly important, he realized, which is why he stressed that there is no reason not to follow your heart.

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.”

The announcement of Steve Jobs’ passing on the Apple website expressed our sentiments succinctly and eloquently. “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius,” it said, “and the world has lost an amazing human being.”

Author's Bio: 

Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS is an internationally distinguished executive coach, corporate consultant, professional speaker, and the founding CEO of her own company, Illustra Consulting. A career acceleration and leadership presence expert, Hathorn created the innovative Predictable Promotion System, a 10-step proprietary process she uses to coach managers aspiring to be directors, directors seeking vice presidential promotions, and VP’s eager to ascend to the C-suite. Hathorn served as a senior level executive for a Fortune 100 company for 25 years, and she has more than 30 years of experience mentoring high potentials for rapid career advancement and extraordinary success.
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