The three most important leadership quotes from Steve Jobs

Now that I’ve had a couple of weeks to digest Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, I am finally ready to move past the overwhelming grander of the Steve Jobs’ persona and provide what I think is a meaningful takeaway from the book.

With Isaacson providing so many nuggets of insights on both the good and bad behaviors that personified Steve Jobs’ life, I decided that it would be important for me to focus the majority of my reflection time on narrowing down these insights into one timeless quote.

To say the least, this was a daunting challenge which I was only partially successful. Instead of one quote, I have one theme: Leadership; and 3 timeless quotes.

These quotes are the most important from Steve Jobs because they showcase the principles that I believe are what guided him to ultimately become the most successful business leader in modern American history.

“It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players…The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players.”

Team building may be the most important skill that Steve Jobs had. It’s nearly universally known that Steve Jobs was never a great engineer, nor was he a great industrial designer. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t much of a people person either. However, he had an uncanny ability to intuitively recognize and recruit people to his team who were extraordinary in these areas. His mantra of only accepting “A player” engineers and designers onto his team is without question a major part of his success as a leader. In addition, his dogmatic belief in rejecting B players and below, is a testament to why Apple is poised to continue its success in the post-Jobs era.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do…That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”

A major leadership theme throughout Steve Jobs career was focus. It is widely accepted that the main reason Jobs was able to turn around Apple when he returned to lead the company is because he slashed more than 70% of the product line and then focused on just a few things. He is also famously known to have told Google’s co-founder and CEO Larry Page to find five products to focus on and get rid of the rest, because they were dragging Google down.

With that said, if you show me a product with a bloated feature set, I can show you why that product is mediocre.

“If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.”

If you follow Apple’s product progression since the release of the first iPod, every successive new product has cut into the sales of a wildly popular existing product. A great example is how the iPhone almost completely cannibalized the iPod. In simple terms, this quote from Steve Jobs is the silver-bullet leaders need to cure Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma.