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Home > Issues > 2012 > Winter > The Soul of Steve Jobs

Soon after the death of Apple's co-founder, Steve Jobs, I read Walter Isaacson's newly released biography, Steve Jobs. Once started, I found it difficult to stop reading (on my iPad) about this complicated man, and I regretted reaching the last page.

Whether one liked or disliked Steve Jobs, he is certainly one of the most talked-about leaders of our time. In his 56-year life, he founded and ultimately led a business organization to a commanding position in the world of technology. He assembled and led teams that produced some of the most admired technological products of our time: Mac Books, iPods, iPhones, iPads. Whole industries came into being because of him.

But Steve Jobs also had many critics. "He mistreated people." "He was ruthless in his business dealings." "He was vindictive." "He lacked compassion." And that's just the light stuff.

As I read about Steve Jobs, I dared to imagine a conversation with him in his office at Apple. A fantasy, of course, but a trigger for some sober thought.

We all know that Steve Jobs was not a professing Christian. While he respected Jesus, he walked away from Christianity at an early age—at least in its organized and doctrinal form.

So why write about him in a Christian journal? Answer: because his life yields valuable lessons, positive and negative, on the subject of leadership. It also highlights areas that Christian leaders can enlist to touch the souls of people like him.

Early Influences

The Steve Jobs biography reminded me of how many leaders are shaped by events in their earliest years (even days) of life.

Jobs, for example, was born to an unmarried couple who chose to give him up for adoption. The good news? The newborn child came to the home of a working class couple, Paul and Clara Jobs of San Francisco, who lavished great love and care on him.

Paul Jobs, Steve's adoptive father, was a Coast Guard veteran, a man of exceptional mechanical and carpentry skill. When Steve was old enough, father and son began to tinker with cars, build furniture, and repair things about the house. "I wasn't into fixing cars," Steve Jobs said years later, "but I was eager to hang out with my dad."

In their time together, the father planted a powerful work ethic in his son. All work, Steve Jobs learned, was to be marked with excellence. When father and son painted a fence together, for example, the boy learned that the unexposed side was to be treated with the same thoroughness as the visible side.

"(My father) loved doing things right," Jobs reflected. "He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn't see." Decades later this principle learned in boyhood would shape the development of Apple devices. Jobs always insisted that the inner parts of anything bearing the Apple name be as perfectly designed and built as the outer parts, even though a customer would never see them.

(Note: you never see a screw or latch that permits you to open up and tinker with an iPod or an iPad. Jobs didn't want you or me "screwing up" his stuff. A control freak? You betcha.)

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Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

Posted: January 23, 2012

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January 10, 2013  11:41am

Part 2: Three days after he’d resigned as CEO under pressure from the company’s board of directors, Hurd received an e-mail from Steve Jobs. The Apple founder wanted to know if Hurd needed someone to talk to. [...] Hurd met Jobs at his home in Palo Alto, according to people who know both men but did not wish to be identified, compromising a personal confidence. The pair spent more than two hours together, Jobs taking Hurd on his customary walk around the tree-lined neighborhood. At numerous points during their conversation, Jobs pleaded with Hurd to do whatever it took to set things right with the board so that Hurd could return. Jobs even offered to write a letter to HP’s directors and to call them up one by one. Jobs and Hurd seemed close, and they were both tight friends of Oracle’s Larry Ellison as well, but history shows Jobs’ attempts at helping the fallen executive eventually failed and he would pass away just a year later.

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January 10, 2013  11:39am

Part 1 The characterization of Jobs ignores that he loved his wife and children and did reach out to others, notwithstanding his mercurial temperament. From: http://9to5mac.com/2013/01/10/257383/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed &utm_campaign=Feed%3A+9To5Mac-MacAllDay+%289+to+5+Mac+-+Apple+Intelligence% 29 Bloomberg Businessweek shared a story today about Steve Jobs having contacted Mark Hurd, the displaced CEO of HP, in 2010 to offer support and help the executive mend relationships with HP. Hurd’s expulsion, although allegedly for different reasons, is often likened to Jobs’ departure from Apple in 1985. As MacRumors noted, Jobs gave advice to many people in Silicon Valley. He apparently felt Hurd’s presence strengthened HP and supposedly did not want the company to flounder after ousting him:

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June 07, 2012  4:52am

A question still in my mind ..where paster can not satisfied this boys simple question then what is his role? Steve did not believed on religion. Why he went to India (Hindu's Auspicious God's Place) and then to Japan for Buddhism and did meditation?

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March 10, 2012  5:19am

I think that we have a lot to learn here. There are many reasons we are commanded to walk in the Spirit.

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Claire Bartlett

March 08, 2012  9:29am

After reading this, I have one simple question. How would you have answered young Steve Jobs to his starving children question?

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