“Kind. Patient. Human. The Steve you didn’t know.”
Those are the words accompanying a portrait of the late Apple cofounder on the cover of this month’s issue of Fast Company, which features an exclusive excerpt from Becoming Steve Jobs, a new biography by longtime Valley reporter Brent Schlender (who came to know Jobs intimately over the 25 years he spent covering Apple) and Fast Company executive editor Rick Tetzeli.
The book aims to debunk the notion that the characteristics typically ascribed to Jobs—petulant, cruel, visionary—were static attributes, when in fact his evolution as a leader occurred over a lifetime. To celebrate the book’s release today, we held a live Q&A with the authors. Here’s five insights:
According to Schlender:
He developed patience, which believe it or not, is a leadership skill. He learned not to rush things that needed more work. He also learned how to be more sensitive to the physical limits of how much his people could work and moderated his demanding behavior. He still was a tough boss, but he got better at helping people share his high ideals for whatever Apple made.
And Tetzeli pointed out that part of Jobs’s bad-boss reputation might have just been social awkwardness. He said:
He didn’t care what the public thought of him. At times, he was surprised to have hurt someone’s feelings. Ed Catmull, president of Pixar, took this as a sign of an occasional social awkwardness, rather than an innate meanness.
Schlender shared his first hand insight into Jobs’s event prep with this story:
Steve spent months preparing for his product intros and other public appearances, and rehearsed them exhaustively. I once spent an entire day watching him run through multiple rehearsals of a single presentation, tweaking everything from the color and angle of certain spotlights, to editing and rearranging the order of the keynote presentation slides to improve his pacing. He could get pretty petulant if some technical aspect went awry. In one instance that day, he just sat silently onstage with his chin in his hand, staring at the floor for nearly 15 minutes, out of frustration with a wrong lighting cue. He didn’t yell this time, but just made everyone wait while he cooled down. Even before that stage, he would call journalists like me or Steven Levy who wrote for Newsweek and later Wired, to try out metaphors and lines he was thinking about using, just to see if we thought they resonated. This could be weeks and weeks before the actual event.
Tetzeli reveled this detail about how Jobs went above and beyond with employees:
We have many anecdotes of Steve defying the common stereotype. One from his personal life is the fact that Steve, after he got sick, helped several Apple employees and friends when they or their loved ones developed cancer. He’d make up spreadsheets of the kinds of care available, he’d talk about the doctors who did the treatment, he’d talk about cost.
Tetzeli also shared this example of Jobs’s style of honest criticism:
A work example is from Pixar, where, when a movie was in trouble, Ed Catmull would call on Steve to have a personal conversation with the director. This wasn’t a scolding thing. Steve and the director would just go on a walk together, and Steve would lay out–in his own, unvarnished, crystal-clear way–exactly where the movie had gone off the tracks.
It was a punch to the gut, but it was told in a way that made it clear that the failure was anything but personal. This is one of the complexities of Steve’s criticism–it could injure those who didn’t know him well, but it could be extremely valuable to those who did know him well.
As much as many may want to take leadership lessons from Jobs, Tetzeli shares why that’s not the best idea:
I think that a lot of people look at Jobs and think being headstrong is the way to go, but they haven’t understood the subtleties of his management skills. Headstrong is a small part of being a successful manager–in fact, it’s not necessary at all. It worked for Steve. But that’s no reason it should work for someone else. Steve’s management style was very much in keeping with who he was, and that should probably be the first thing a manager asks himself–am I posing, or is this really me? If the answer is posing, it’s time to find a new style.
Schlender revealed what really motivated Jobs:
Steve was motivated more than anything to feel he had made a solid and positive impact on the world during his lifetime. It was as simple as that. He would say, “I just want to put a dent in the universe.” The funny thing was, that wasn’t hyperbole. He really meant it. But at the same time, Steve was an aesthetic idealist in a very particular way. It was more important to him to create the best product than to sell the most. There’s a certain snobbishness and elitism to this notion, but the second time around at Apple, Steve rarely failed to live up to the high standards he set for himself and others. And there is no question that he left his mark on the world.