Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli’s Becoming Steve Jobs is an intimate portrait of Steve Jobs’ evolution. It is also, perhaps accidentally, one of the most insightful and instructive books on management I have ever read. While one may not typically think of a biography as a leadership or self-help book, Schlender and Tetzeli capture the kind of growth that all leaders should push themselves towards.
Jobs is the most iconic leader of his generation, and Schlender and Tetzeli set themselves a challenging task in working to humanize a leader who achieved almost unimaginable success and acclaim. The book succeeds admirably, introducing us to a relatable Jobs who learned and grew. In “Becoming Steve Jobs,” the authors chronicle Jobs’ evolution into an extraordinary leader who learned to hone his strengths and mitigate his weaknesses. For example, Steve never gave up on his passion for marketing—Schlender and Tetzeli say he spent more time on marketing than any CEO they ever met—but he also went to great lengths to soften his style without forgoing his high expectations. By demystifying Jobs’ success, this book has the potential to inspire nascent leaders to take more responsibility for their own leadership development, which could accelerate the pace of positive change we see in the world.
Through interviews with Jobs’ peers, many of them insightful leaders in their own right, “Becoming Steve Jobs” is also filled with unintentionally practical management advice. For example, Ron Johnson, who developed the hugely-successful Apple retail stores and their Genius Bars while at Apple, notes that “Steve was the best delegator I ever met: he was so clear about what he wanted that it gave you great freedom.” This comment offers insight into how Steve Jobs was able to drive towards product perfection without threatening the autonomy of his employees. It’s also a good reminder to leaders everywhere that a bit of extra articulation at the vision level is far more valuable than a detailed set of instructions.
The book offers dozens of exciting and thought provoking anecdotes that I learned from. In a comment that could serve as a case study for how to motivate employees, Schlender and Tetzeli write that one Pixar employee said that “Steve was our biggest fan. Every time we did an internal reel, he would want a copy. And I’d find out from people I knew, he’s show it to every neighbor at his house. Hey—everybody come see this! He loved it. He was like a kid.” Who wouldn’t want to work for someone who has that kind of enthusiasm?
At other points, “Becoming Steve Jobs” is a window into how Jobs managed to find work-life balance. One Apple employee said that “you’ll see that he hardly ever traveled and he did none of the conferences and get togethers that so many CEOs attend. He wanted to be home for dinner.” Part of why Jobs was successful was because he didn’t work 24/7 and sought meaning in all aspects of life.
“Becoming Steve Jobs” is a fun and a quick read, but more importantly, it is useful: it gives the world a Steve Jobs we can learn from.
Garrett Neiman is co-founder and CEO of CollegeSpring, a nonprofit that works with schools and community organizations to help low-income students prepare for and apply to college, then pursue a degree.