Can We Please Stop Holding Up Steve Jobs As A Best Practice In Leadership?


I admit it.

I love Apple products. Every PC or laptop that I have ever owned is a Mac. I have owned several iterations of the iPod and secretly long for an apple watch (especially now that they are waterproof!). The design and the attention to the end-user experience is what sets Apple apart from all other tech-based companies in the world, and most of the rest of the companies in any industry too.


We, as consumers, all look to Steve Jobs as the "giver" of such amazing devices, and listen to him talk about being focused on the beautiful design and useability of his products. He was an amazing visionary and the greatest single inventor of our time.

But let me ask you a question: Would you work for him?

Those of us outside of the Apple organization see Jobs as this amazingly brilliant and visionary man, but there are plenty of stories of him being an absolute tyrant to his employees, his partners and even his mentor. A post on Gawker shortly after he died from reporter Ryan Tate was one of the first to pull back the veil at Apple and show a different side of Jobs - one that was brutal to many of his staff, bullying and belittling his people and even implementing policies and practices that centralized conrol. Jobs controlled his people and his business, right down to who could say what on his devices and in his company.

One Thing's For Sure: Steve Jobs Was No Servant Leader.

Servant leadership may not be everyone's cup of tea, and that's okay. But we're passionate about what servant leadership is and how it can help organizations better connect and engage their people, ultimately driving the success of their organizations further.

As we've developed our programming in servant leadership, we've come to better understand the 11 different principles of the philosophy and how, when performed simultaneously as practice, they are capable of tranformational change within organizations. They are Purpose, Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Foresight, Persuasion, Stewardship, Conceptualization, Growth and Community Building.

What we see when we look at Steve Jobs is not someone who was a servant leader by any definition, although there were glimmers of his ability to leverage some of the leadership principles that are part of the servant leadership philosophy. For example, he was incredibly good at conceptualization, foresight and perhaps even awareness, and he was more than likely driven by purpose - it's just that his purpose didn't translate into being someone who put the needs of others ahead of his own. What he lacked most was the concepts of empathy and healing- the emotional intelligence that is critical to being a servant, as well as a servant leader.

4 Servant Leaders Worth Following.

The good news is this: Steve Jobs isn't the only successful and innovative leader out there that we as leadership students can follow.

In fact, there are many other amazing leaders and CEOs of massive companies that we can look to, who can demonstrate what servant leadership is, and who we can follow as that shining example of what real authentic leadership truly is. Here are our top 4 servant leaders to follow:

Bob Chapman, CEO - Barry Wehmiller


If you haven't heard of the amazing story of Barry-Wehmiller and the Truly Human Leadership movement, then you need to pick up the book Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman. Bob is the CEO of the organization, which he inherited in 1975 at the age of 30 after the death of his father. Bob turned a struggling machinery company around with an emphasis on his people and their wholistic growth and development into an organization that today is a privately owned $2 billion organization that has acquired over 80 other companies and employs 11,000 team members in 100+ locations around the globe.

Bob started the Truly Human Leadership movement that shares ideas and insights into what truly human leadership is, and its ability to transform lives through people-centric leadership practices.

Howard Schultz- CEO, Starbucks


Starbucks is a global phenomenon that, despite the jokes that there are more Starbucks than there are street corners to put them on, boasts nearly 24,000 locations worldwide and has birthed a number of subsidiary organizations such as ethos water, Tazo teas and Seattles Best Coffee. As the man at the helm for the organization since it's inception, Howard instilled a strong sense of social consciousness and a set of values that flew in the face of many traditional business practices, but has made them an organization that has built a cult-like following with its customers (yours truly included).

Schultz's servant leadership principles are on display in the book Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, in which he discusses a number of servant leadership principles such as empathy (which translated into the organization bringing 10,000 of its employees to New Orleans to rebuild after Katrina, or his refusal to cut health care benefits for temporary employees), growth (Schultz's implementation of paying for college tuition for employees), stewardship (the focus on fair trade coffee agreements and ethical treatment of suppliers) and community building (by leveraging his brand to spark coversation about politics and race) just to name a few.

Howard has been a lightning rod for those who see servant leadership as a drag on shareholder profits, but has stayed true to his leadership vision for the organization, and his people have helped him earn staggering returns for investors. My absolutle favourite Howard Schultz moment was this exchange with an investor at a Starbucks shareholder meeting who disagreed with his support of gay marriage in 2013. Mic. Drop.


Don Bell and Clive Beddoe - Founding Partners, WestJet


I couldn't do a whole blog post about servant leadership and not have any Canadian content, now could I? Besides, at one time, I was a proud WestJetter and still to this day own stock in the company thanks to the profit-sharing and share purchase plans that Don and Clive put into place when I was there working for the organization.

Don and Clive believed in the value of customer service, and from the beginning empowered their people to do what was necessary to help their employees best serve the customer. Through hiring practices that sought out those who had the value of service over financial gain, they got their airline off the ground by employing pilots who were interested in being a part of a company that valued people over profit, and offered them shares in the company as a way to off-set their salaries, which WestJet could not compete with when it came to unionized pilots. Less than 10 years later, those first pilots all became millionaires the day WestJet stock became publicly traded in 1999.


Don and Clive made themselves accessible to their people, providing fireside chats on a monthly basis, flying to each station to meet with employees and share their vision for the future. They practiced an amazing amount of empathy for their employees and their customers, putting their money where their mouths were in providing flights to those who had suffered tragedy or were in need of their help (see the story of WestJet evacuating people from Fort McMurray last summer), and they believe in the overall growth and development of their employees, providing significant training and development opportunities to each employee and engaging their families in benefits such as flights and other perks to encourage a true spirit of inclusion for all.

If anything can describe the WestJet spirit and philosophy of servant leadership, its got to be those tear-jerking and crazy emotional videos that they do at Christmas time. All developed and created by the employees themselves, I might add.


The Point Is: We Can Do A Better Job Of Leadership Than Jobs

There are a number of organizations and a number of leaders that have done a better job of leading their people than Jobs, and It's time that we started seeing more articles and posts with their faces and their voices connected to leadership values.

Let's hope that there are more of us out there who feel the same way, and that we as leaders and learners start to show others the values that are connected to a more human approach to leading people. We can continue our respect and admiration of Jobs as an innovator, but also need to begin to shine the light on those who truly deserve more recognition than him as it relates to leadership.