But we can't argue with the fact that Jobs was a visionary god, inspiring and enrolling the brightest of talent to follow his vision and create amazing new products.
That's the essence of good leadership: to build a company around a compelling vision that smart and talented people will sacrifice their lives for, give them realistic targets, and get the hell out of their way.
But there's another, even more important piece of the puzzle to consider. Jobs knew that he had to do everything it took to help his team achieve their goals -- including setting the right environment in which to work.
In an interview for the 1998 book In the Company of Giants, Jobs told the authors that after you recruit your A+ players, "it's building an environment that makes people feel they are surrounded by equally talented people and their work is bigger than they are ... and having a culture that recruits the A players is the best way."
Building a Culture for A Players
Steve Jobs shared that insight a long time ago. To put current context into his advice and help leaders act on it with practical intent, here's how to do it:
1. Unleash the "intrapreneurial spirit" across your organization
Many "best places to work" focus intently on maintaining their culture with an emphasis on fostering intrapreneurship -- a system that encourages employees to think and act like individual entrepreneurs and empowers them to take action, embrace risk, and make decisions as if they had founded the company themselves.
2. Value your workers
To manage highly paid, highly intelligent knowledge workers is no easy task, especially since most don't like to be managed in the first place. The key to putting Steve Jobs's advice into action is to lead them (not manage them) as you would everyone else by valuing them as real human beings. Like all high performers, knowledge workers take pride in their work and want to serve their customers well. And they want to grow and reach new possibilities along their career path.
3. Set the people free
In a knowledge economy, top-down hierarchical management styles that direct traffic one-way with no input will collapse, especially since knowledge workers typically know more than their managers about their own areas of specialization. The Steve Jobs approach here is to give them the keys to managing themselves. You'll find that in high-performing organizations that empower their knowledge workers, information is shared openly across fewer reporting levels, and people are able to use it to make the right decisions quickly.
4. Give them a common vision
One of the worst things that cause disengaged and dispirited employees is a leader's inability to attach meaning and purpose to their peoples' work. Jobs thought differently. He said, "Once they know what to do, they'll go figure out how to do it. What they need is a common vision. And that's what leadership is: having a vision; being able to articulate that so the people around you can understand it, and getting a consensus on a common vision."
5. Give them plenty of feedback
According to Gallup research, the second most common mistake that leads to turnover is lack of communication. Managers must step out of their own comfort zones to provide their best talent with guidance and direction, give them regular feedback on their performance, and clarify goals and expectations, especially during change. This is also a two-way street. When managers don't solicit the opinions of their smartest team members, trust begins to erode. They need to listen to their people receptively and without judgment about their concerns, passions, fears, joys, goals, and aspirations so they feel validated and understood.