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The Two Counterintuitive Traits That Make Steve Jobs and Elon Musk Exceptional Leaders

It’s the night of November 9th, 2001. The iPod is launching the following morning. Steve Jobs, sits down with a model, plugs in the earphones and listens to a song…only something isn’t right.[1]

Steve tries again, and though it functions, there is something about it he doesn’t like.
So picks up his phone and calls some of his engineers.

That night, that team of engineers stayed up into the night redesigning and rebuilding the jacks for 100 demo iPods just so they clicked into place correctly. This they did and the iPod went on to revolutionize the way we listen to music.

Was Jobs’ request stressful? Definitely. Unreasonable? Perhaps, but effective.
He encountered something that made him adapt, and used his opinionated, at times forceful style of leadership to achieve success.

They Stand Firm in Their Beliefs But They’re Not Rigid

Elon Musk[2] too has been known to set the impossible for his employees, much like Steve Jobs, and both men are and were unmatched giants in their respective fields.

Both men are known and remembered for their great leadership ability, and unusual, but effective leadership skills.

The reason: In presenting their employees such a difficult task, and giving them the freedom and responsibility to take ownership of it, Jobs and Musk allowed their employees to work both for themselves, and for their employers.

This high pressure method of leading could easily be disastrous, if Musk and Jobs didn’t share two character traits, traits that at first seem to oppose each other, but traits that were vital for their success.

They were opinionated, yet adaptable.

They knew exactly what they wanted, and worked for their goals even when they seemed unlikely or impossible, but were also able to adapt and deviate from their goals in order to fulfill their visions. Many leaders fear changing intentions in case they appear weak, and often times, directly because of this fear, they achieve little success.

There are many examples of businesses and business leaders adapting and changing their original plans to suit new circumstances. Facebook for example, was originally a social network designed for, and exclusive to Harvard students. Nokia was originally a paper company. It took decades for Apple to move into mobile communications…
The opinionated but adaptable character traits be found in some of the greatest leaders in history from Alexander the Great, to Barack Obama, and many in between.

You Can Lead Like Jobs and Musk If You Can Apply These 4 Skills

If being willful, and opinionated, yet adaptable are key traits to great leaders.[3] It could be a good exercise to think of ways you can distill these traits as usable leadership skills. In consideration of the leadership skills of Jobs and Musk, I see four overlapping things.

  • Both men stuck to their opinions and visions, but were willing to change them when presented with new information or changing circumstances (much like the way Steve Jobs found a fault with the headphone jack before the launch of the iPod).
  • Both men trusted their team and their vision so much that they ignored what seemed to be possible so that they could achieve the impossible. It was once said that Jobs had a “reality distortion field”[4] meaning that he believed only in what He thought was possible, and made others believe it too. In the early days of Apple he asked Steve Wozniak to create and build a game for the apple computer. When Jobs detailed his idea, Wozniak said he could build it in a couple months, Jobs had him build it in four days.[5]
  • Both men possess unusual confidence in the work of their companies, themselves, and their employees. The clearest example of this is how Musk has invested $100 million of his own money into SpaceX. In doing so he demonstrates that he is so confident about the work of SpaceX that he is willing to invest a huge amount of money to see its success. Even to the point that he risks the loss of that money.
  • Both men surrounded themselves with the most driven and talented people that they could find, and knew how to use and foster that talent in ways that nobody else could predict. Regarding Jobs again, it is important to note, that although he was a tech innovator, he was neither a programmer, nor an engineer (though of course he probably knew the basics) but was instead more of a designer and businessman. Yet he knew, understood, and was confident in the talents of those around them, those in possession of talents that he lacked, so much that he made them do things that they themselves didn’t think they could achieve. Being around such talent also enabled people to take charge (to an extent) of projects as he knew that they could get the job done.

Reference

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About Mysterious Everythings

Le Minh Hieu is a national-level weightlifter and a Singapore Weightlifting sports performance coach. Hieu's biggest passion is helping everyone find confidence, happiness, and health through fitness.