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.
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.)
But then there's the perceived rejection of his biological parents. That's the bad-news side of the story. What's it like to know that your mother put you into the arms of someone else and walked away? This appears to have haunted Jobs all his life and may partially explain his shortfalls in many human relationships.
When Jobs began school, his parents and teachers soon discovered that he was a "problem child." It showed in his rebelliousness, in his boredom with the curriculum, in his unwillingness to fit into ordinary classroom regimens. He resisted learning in the traditional cookie-cutter ways.