The Steve Jobs Guide to Becoming an Innovative Tech Leader

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We all know the story.

In the garage of his California home, Steve Jobs and company founded Apple Computers more than 40 years ago. It was in that garage the the tech industry arguably changed forever.

tech leader

For many, Jobs will always be remembered for his public speaking events (or “Stevenotes”) at Apple conferences and expos, where he unveiled the latest tech breakthroughs last minute, leaving many speechless at the veil of simplicity that masked technologically complex and advanced products.

And since his death in 2011, Jobs has become a beacon and an idol for tech leaders hoping to learn something from a man synonymous with the word “innovation.”

But in a world where there are articles abound with advice for aspiring leaders and innovation is just another buzzword, what exactly can IT managers learn from Jobs’ life?

Why not hear from the man himself?

“Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”

Time can be a tech employee’s worst enemy.

Even in the world of C-suite executives, CISOs often find themselves at odds with their peers, who either don’t grasp the importance of a tech perspective or understand the work that goes into a single project.

For businesses that are increasingly relying on technology in order to operate and function, dismissing an IT professional’s viewpoint can create unrealistic expectations and sow discord. Technology should be working alongside a business’ goals and vice versa.

For example, security breaches are becoming increasingly common and increasingly problematic, especially since an average data breach now totals $4 million (up from last year’s $3.8 million and an increase of 29% since 2013). It’s enough to put a majority businesses in the ground, either from exhausted resources or a marred reputation.

While there’s still debate around how preventable these breaches are, investing in quality security and updating your systems is integral to keeping the threat at bay. Even more so, businesses need to start aligning cybersecurity initiatives with their overall business goals.

“[I]f a company’s task is ‘selling shoes online,’” Ted Schlein argues in Forbes, “it’s the CSO’s job to tell the company that the task is now ‘selling shoes online securely’ and to get the company moving quickly in that direction.”

You might not be a CSO or even a CIO, but your perspective as an IT employee is still integral to your company. With such a reliance on tech for businesses today, not weighing the technological cost or considering an IT perspective can be troublesome in the long run. All wheels need to be turning for you to move forward.

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.

Similar in vein to a Thomas Edison quote, here Jobs evokes a mantra we all known to be true, but with a push towards a slice of positivity.

As a sector that constantly changes and evolves, old methods and technologies will become outdated. Constant improvement is necessary for the health of your company and to maintain relevancy in a changing industry.

For example, despite leaving (or being fired from, depending on what you read) Apple in 1985, Jobs went on to found NeXT, another computer company where the former Apple CEO continued with his work. There, he created the NeXT workstation with college students in mind and matched tech advancements with aesthetics and style. It was work that would foreshadow the colorful iterations of iMacs that would mark Apple’s forthcoming signature of sleek design paired with user-friendly interface.

As a tech professional, you can’t expect to move forward without trial and error. Many entrepreneurs (and even professors) have been coming clean about their own failures, supplying a nice splash of cold water to a narrative often tinged with rose-colored glasses.

But rather than dwelling on these failures, Jobs and others continued with their work, quickly dusting themselves off before taking a new direction.

Even Elon Musk, heir apparent to Jobs’ legacy, has had his own share of recent failures, but continues to tread new ground in space exploration.

It takes persistence and commitment to move on from failed ideas and into new ventures. Think if Jobs had never left Apple. Do you think we would be using the same technologies we take for granted today?

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

You know the stereotypes. Fixing printers, reconnecting the internet, or even suggesting that catch-all solution: “Just turn if off. Now turn it back on.”

A common thread through all of these assumption is that you’re reactionary, that you serve as a problem solver to counter glitches and mistakes.

But an IT professional is more than just a glorified handyman. You’re there for creation and prevention, not just reaction.

“As IT professionals, we aren’t really doing our job unless we determine what will be helpful, regardless of what was asked for,” Paul Glen tells Computerworld. “Being experts in technology carries a professional responsibility to do more than simply fill orders.”

Instead, Glen asserts, tech employees should act as doctors, serving as experts and helping to diagnose problems rather than assisting users in what they want instead of what’s best for them.

“[D]octors sometimes have to deliver difficult news and convince patients that what they want may be bad for them or not accomplish what they imagine it will,” Glen continues.

As an IT professional, you have to remember that you were hired was to provide your insight and unique perspective to your company, not just fix printers. While it may take effort to change this mindset, be sure to suggest what could be better alternatives to what a coworker or even your boss desires.

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

One of the first things people tend to touch on when talking about a career in tech is the salary. And it’s easy to see why.

In a 2015 list of the highest paying jobs in America, Business Insider found that computer and information systems managers are the 21st highest paying gig, beating out lawyers, pharmacists, and physicists. Not to mention, these tech salaries are expected to continue to grow — and rapidly — with demand still as high as ever.

But despite these high numbers, it can be easy to forget what drew you to IT in the first place.

For Steve Jobs, Apple was never about how much money awaited him at the end of the rainbow. There was no glory, no fame inside of that garage when Apple became a company. Rather, he believed in the product he was selling, baffling even his biographer who was trying to pinpoint just what it was that gave Jobs his drive.

“We can make [computers] great,” Jobs told Steven Levy back in 1983. “[W]e can make a great product that people can easily use.”

As an IT leader, it’s important not to lose sight of why you do your job in the first place. Rising on the career ladder may task you with more administrative responsibilities, but don’t forget the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place.

“It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

When people think of Steve Jobs, it’s often as a solitary figure. Even in the iconic black and white image on the cover of Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography, we see Jobs alone, furthering this idea of the solitary entrepreneur revolutionizing the world on their own terms.

But IT doesn’t work that way. Or at least it doesn’t have to.

From assembling diverse players to understanding the essentials of emotional intelligence, Jobs understood that it takes a combination of teamwork, exceptional leadership, and a unique perspective to be able to perform your best as an IT leader.

Because Apple wouldn’t be the same without Steve Wozniak (or Ronald Wayne), who helped guide the company on the path to making great computers, or Steve Jobs leaving in the mid-80s, returning with a new sense of purpose that led to the computers and gadgets we know today.

Because to be an IT leader is to understand that it’s more than yourself that makes a great leader. It’s having a great team and a great vision for the future.

“One more thing…”

Have any other favorite Steve Jobs quotes about leadership that you live by? Let me know in the comments below.

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