How to Measure Leadership Effectiveness: Steve Jobs

how to measure leadership effectiveness, steve jobs

Ever wonder how to measure leadership effectiveness?

Here’s how a recent conversation went about Steve Jobs and his “leadership success”:

Dan: “Steve Jobs was a great leader.  He was one of the best of our times.”

Alex: “I beg to differ…He really wasn’t a leader!  Have you read the book?!  Most people hated working for him!”

Dan: “He built the most profitable company in history, with amazing products that have changed the world!”

Alex: “But he put people down, was moody, inflexible and hard to work with.  He was a micromanager, and a bully.”

Dan: “But that’s not how to judge a leader.  He was a visionary…but also found a way to make it happen.”

Alex: “He was a visionary, yes.  But a visionary who was a maniacal manager of products, really.”

steve jobs, how to measure leadership effectiveness, case study

How to Measure Leadership Effectiveness

Ok…So what’s the verdict?  Jobs changed the world for the better, and he was a big jerk.  But how do you measure leadership, anyway?

Here’s my take.  Steve Jobs was an incredible leader.  But of what?
He didn’t lead the hearts and minds of his employees as much as he led the products that would do that.   His products and product ideas inspired people more than he did as a leader.   He was interested in hearts and minds, for sure, but not his team’s so much as customers’.   It was user’s hearts and minds he was after.   He cared about their emotional reactions.   He wanted people to fall in love, but not with him as a leader.  Rather, he wanted moms, dads, kids, grandparents, and everyone to love technology, because of what it could do for them.He was not a great leader of people.  He was a technology leader, a consumer leader, and a visionary.   Ultimately, he was a product leader.  Bottom line, he was an amazing product-focused visionary leader.

So, would Steve Jobs be considered an extraordinary leader?   Would you want to have been led by him? (I wouldn’t.)  Would Steve have brought out the best in you?  (Not me…)

The REAL Leadership Framework: A Scorecard

Using the REAL Leader Framework, here’s how his scores break down:


On the Results scale, how’d Steve do?!  C’mon!  If I could give him more than 100% (5 Stars), I would.

In a Harvard Business Review article, The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, he says:

“One of the last times I saw him (Steve Jobs), after I had finished writing most of the book, I asked him again about his tendency to be rough on people. “Look at the results,” he replied. “These are all smart people I work with, and any of them could get a top job at another place if they were truly feeling brutalized. But they don’t.” Then he paused for a few moments and said, almost wistfully, “And we got some amazing things done.”

Steve Jobs’ legacy as a leader will be all about his Results.  I now can’t imagine any other leader ever getting a perfect score on the REAL Results scale.  Steve’s results changed the world.  All future leaders will be implicitly or explicitly compared to Steve Jobs when it comes to results.  Results Perspective: 5 Stars.


Steve’s impact and engagement with his people wasn’t so great…so he only gets 60% credit here.  A lot of people couldn’t or wouldn’t work for him.  He was brutal.  Working for him was a bear, most have said.  His perfectionistic nature spiked anxiety in others and burnt people out.  His relentless nature was hard to embrace if you worked for him.  But, in spite of this, some people did rise to the occasion under his leadership, even if out of fear.  He did bring out the best in some people.  Some resilient tech brainiacs loved the craziness.  They loved the ride, and the roller coaster of emotions he generated.  So Steve, only a passing grade here is all I can give you.  Engagement Perspective: 3 Stars.


Mr. Jobs  gets a 100% for Action.   He was a doer and really made others take Action.   He focused on getting stuff done–the right stuff.    He could translate his vision into reality through action like no other.   He accelerated the process.   Competitors could not keep up with his pace.   His first product was built in his garage.   He never stopped turning ideas into action, making beautiful products that were magical.  Action Perspective: 5 Stars.

Leader Characteristics

Steve gets 80% for the Leader characteristics.  His vision was unrivaled; he could see the future or feel it or something.   He had a burning passion to create it.   He had “it” in him.   He was unrelenting.   He cared about quality, and delivering the goods, like no other.  “He was the most passionate leader one could hope for, a motivating force without parallel,” wrote Steven Levy, author of the 1994 book “Insanely Great.” But Steve didn’t appear to care about his people throughout his career, as much as other extraordinary leaders.  (He even apologized for this toward the end of his life.)   So, I must take off 20%… (There are some good reasons he got fired from Apple many years ago…)

In Steve Lohr’s recent NY Times piece, he suggests that if Steve Jobs had a motto, it may have come from “The Whole Earth Catalog,” which he said had deeply influenced him as a young man.  During Steve’s  commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, he ended with the quote “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. I have always wished that for myself.”  Leader Perspective: 4 Stars.


The Situational “Fit” perspective is an elusive factor to consider.  Steve  gets another high score for knowing the Situation and broader context he was in, and being a “fit” in the Apple he came back to after his hiatus.   He knew the customer, the trends in tech, the true limitlessness of technology, and the business environment.   He knew the problems that needed to be solved.   He could appear to be like a fortune teller at times, his situational awareness was so strong.  Situation Perspective: 5 Stars.

The Verdict

I’m giving Steve Jobs a 22 out of 25 Stars (88%) on the REAL Leader scale.

Steve, you were an amazing leader that has set the bar high.  May you rest in peace.

Achieve Your Own 25 Stars

Can you beat Steve Jobs? Maybe!  Call me, 703-889-5038.

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About Curt Buermeyer

I am the founder and president of LeadPeople. I hope you enjoyed this post and encourage you to subscribe to receive these in your inbox. Thanks for visiting!

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