Steve Jobs’ Top 5 Leadership Messages

Great leaders, like Steve Jobs, are associated with memorable leadership messages.

This is no coincidence!

Vivid messages help position people as great leaders. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Anita Roddick, Steve Waugh, Richard Branson, Bill Clinton and Janine Allis are some good examples of this.

This article focuses on Steve Jobs and his leadership messages. Steve Jobs was the CEO and Founder of both Apple Computers and Pixar. He was a legend who changed the world in the following 4 areas:

  1. Computers with the creation of the Macintosh in 1984 which was the first computer with a graphical user interface and mouse.
  2. Music – with the iPod and iTunes Store.
  3. Consumer computers – with the iPhone and iPad.
  4. Pixar – which changed the world of animated movies.


Leadership Message No. 5:

Steve Jobs.youcanchangetheworld“You can change the world.”

When Steve Jobs was a kid, he saw a new piece of technology – a speaker that didn’t need an amplifier. He went home and told his dad, and his dad said, “Every speaker needs an amplifier, son”. He forced his dad to come with him to look at the new technology, and observed his dad’s amazement.

Steve credits this moment as the start of a driving belief that he had for the rest of his life: That the people who created all the stuff in the world are no smarter than you or me. So he decided that it was quite logical and quite possible that he would change the world.

He’s known for convincing many brilliant people to work for him on the promise that they could, truly change the world. Most famously, when Steve Jobs enticed the CEO of Pepsi to join Apple in its early days. The message that finally convinced John Scully to quit his safe job at Pepsi and join the risky young Apple team was:

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?”

Great leaders paint a vision for the future that inspires their team. Steve Jobs’ promise was that if you were part of his team, you could actually change the world. And they did!


‘Leadership Message No. 4:


Steve Jobs was a great motivator, but a hard man to work for at times. He expected perfection – sometimes an impossible perfection – from his engineers.

He was famous for giving a “This is shit” response to the first look at software and hardware prototypes.

Now, you might think this is not a very motivating leadership message to his team! (Sometimes he refined the message to make it clearer 🙂)

However, by understanding Steve’s passion in combination with the words, his team worked out that “This is shit” meant; Why is this the best way to do it?” This ultimately forced people to think through their projects and make sure it was the best option. It helped create a culture that was focused on making insanely great products.


Leadership Message No. 3:

The iPod - "1000 Songs in your pocket"

“1,000 songs in your pocket.”

This message was the foundation of Apple’s leadership in an entire industry.

What is unique about Steve Jobs is his direct involvement in the messaging of the products he launched. It is unheard of that a CEO (as opposed to an advertising agency) would decide on the messaging – and launch each product personally to deliver that message.

For example, leading up to the iPod launch in October 2001, Steve personally managed the process of deciding on both the name and the message of this breakthrough product. What is interesting is that Steve decided on the message before they had named the product. The message – “1000 songs in your pocket” – was decided upon some months before the name ‘iPod’ was chosen.

When he personally launched the product on stage, he pulled the the first iPod out of his front jeans pocket and said, “The iPod. 1000 songs in your pocket.” At the same moment, the screen behind him reinforced the message. Within an hour, the Apple homepage was emblazoned with the same message. “The iPod. 100 songs in your pocket.”

By being clear and memorable, Steve Jobs achieved what other leaders have only dreamed of: massive editorial exposure for free. Hundreds of journalists from the audience wrote reviews with the “1000 songs in your pocket” message as either a headline or a key component of the first paragraph.

In fact, the messaging genius of Steve Jobs went further than that. Purchasers of the product showed it to their friends, dutifully repeating the message. “Hey, have you seen this cool new device? 1000 songs in your pocket!”

This message launched the consumer computer revolution. The iPod was the first in the line of consumer products that lead to the iPhone and the iPad. But it all started with the massive success of the iPod which created a new category and still dominates the MP3 market with an 80% share. The product is great, but the “1000 songs in your pocket” message was crucial in creating Apple’s leadership in this market.


Leadership Message No. 2:

Steve Jobs. We're not perfect“We’re not perfect. Phones are not perfect. We all know that. But we want to make our customers happy.”

The ‘Antennagate‘ crisis happened soon after the launch of the iPhone 4 in July 2010.

The iPhone 4 was a great smartphone, but the design had the antenna wrapped around the outside of the phone. If you held it in a certain way, and your finger bridged the gap between two antenna segments, the signal was affected.

It became known as the “death grip” and in some cases might even cause a dropped call. It was a big issue and there were calls to do a full product recall.

Steve Jobs rushed back from his family Hawaiian vacation to tackle the negative opinion. He held a media conference and made a presentation that changed the framework of the discussion. He led with a message that surprised many people. Rather than apologising, he said: ‘Phones aren’t perfect.”

This is a great example of a leadership message. He decided that the way people were viewing the problem was wrong – and he gave them another view. That’s leadership.

Some said it was more like bullshit than leadership. But what happened was that millions of people were less frustrated and angry than before. And to top his message off, he said, “…but we want to make you happy so here’s a free plastic ‘bumper’ that solves the problem”. And he offered that to any one who wanted one.

His core message changes the conversation in just 4 short sentences.


Leadership Message No. 1:

Steve Jobs. Stay hungry stay foolish“Stay hungry. Stay Foolish.”

This message took on a life of its own after Steve Jobs made a low key speech at Stanford University in 2005, that later went viral on the internet. Over 30,000,000 people have watched this speech. Most heard about it through word of mouth.

The full speech was later published in Fortune magazine. I’ve been reading Fortune for over 20 years and never before or after, have they published a speech. This one made an impact.

Why was this speech so good? It contains a life leadership message. It was written for a stadium full of 20 something’s who were graduating university and starting their working lives. And it turns out that many millions more needed to hear this message too.

The speech covers the fascinating story of Steve Jobs’ life building Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, as well as a discussion on the meaning of life and death. Everything he talks about in the speech reinforces, and leads to, his powerful take-home message.

The “Stay hungry, stay foolish” message is short and simple. But listen to some of the other key points within the speech that reinforce the meaning of his shorter message:

  • “The only way to do great work is love what you do. If you haven’t found it, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
  • “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day like its your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and ever since then, for the last 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
  • “Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking.”
  • Fortune_Magazine_Steve_Jobs_Stay_hungry_stay_foolish“Don’t let the noise of other opinions drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

So…his wonderful message for your life is Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

(By the way, guess which headline the Fortune editors chose when the published the speech?)


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  1. […] Barber, a. (2014, July 28). Steve Jobs’ Top 5 Leadership Messages. Retrieved from CamBarber The Message Man: […]

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