The Ringmaster: Steve Jobs
There are few CEOs who have ever, and perhaps ever will be as renowned for their prowess as a ringmaster as Steve Jobs. The Apple founder's ability to stand before a live audience of millions and command a room is simply unparalleled. You could argue that like John F. Kennedy was the right president for the television age, Jobs has been the CEO for the age of social media. That's why when writing my new book, Discover Your CEO Brand, Jobs led the list of powerful brands.
A lot has been written about Jobs amazing communication skills. Still, it's worth mentioning a newly published research paper by Abz Sharma and David Grant of the University of Sydney, Australia because the lessons are relevant to all leaders. This is a well-documented analysis of how Jobs transformed from narcissistic, edgy, undisciplined spokesman, to one of the most respected, hallowed CEO brands in the world.
As any living, breathing business person knows, when Jobs takes the stage his narrative and dramatic techniques exemplify the charismatic leader. He creates anticipation and excitement pre-announcement, and never disappoints when he gets up to frame and advance the Apple story. Jobs is an icon for sure. But as Sharm and Grant point out, he nevertheless uses techniques that "offer lessons for other senior executives who need to manage the message about themselves and their companies."
Okay, let's be honest, even if we are old enough to remember, we weren't paying attention when Jobs rose to prominence in the 70's and 80's, "dogged" by stories that appeared in the press and unauthorized biographies, focusing on his "narcissism, temper, epic tantrums and bad behavior." However, when he returned in 1997, Jobs put a lid on the leaks, according to the authors, and also launched a new strategy to rely on big broadcast events like trade shows and conferences to interact with customers.
Let me stop right there and point out the obvious. It worked! Apple events, broadcast online became "must-see" TV, if you will in an age when nothing is "must-see." These have allowed Jobs to be Jobs, he's grown into the role, presenting himself as the cool spokesman for the coolest products. Just when you thought Apple enthusiasts couldn't be more enthusiastic, they went apoplectic.
There may be one hundred reasons why, but let's highlight three the authors noted. First, he created that interactive "town hall" feeling so elusive for many leaders having town hall meetings, by mastering the stage. Second, he developed a knack for using inclusive language - "it's about we, and us." It wasn't about Apple, it was about Apple fans. Duh. Finally, most compelling and relevant in my view, is how Job's style is "generated through narrative and storytelling." Yes, at heart, he is a storyteller.
Storytelling is THE the hottest topic in leadership development today - and as you know it is a big part of what we teach. Why? Storytelling is as old as time, and as new as the coolest app on your iPhone. I don't care whether you're standing on a stage, on You Tube, or in front of your team, as a leader, you gotta be able to tell a story.
You don't need to be Steve Jobs to get your company to center stage, but it wouldn't hurt to take a page out of his book. Learn how to command the room by telling an inspiring story.
If you'd like to read the rest of the article, go to Harvard Business review, and read "The Stagecraft of Steve Jobs."
"US$150 million investment in Apple by archrival Microsoft. From a minimalist stage, dressed casually in trousers and a black vest over a white pullover shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Jobs sought to affect a town-hall meeting vibe.
But when a guest appearance by Microsoft CEO Bill Gates was met with loud boos, Jobs had to depart from his planned script and launch into a kind of impromptu sermon. He invoked a collective voice - usingwe and us - to appeal to his followers and frame the Apple-Microsoft rivalry as something in the past. He encouraged Apple's followers to give up their feelings against Microsoft and take responsibility for Apple's future. As the authors write: "Moralized and enlightened by Jobs' unscripted sermon...they applauded enthusiastically, in approval of [his] 'vision' narrative."