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The Pursuit Of Excellence: The Payoff Essay Sample

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Whether you are an athlete, a teacher, or a promising high achiever in another walk of life, you can achieve excellence. At a time when numbers speak, performance is equal to profit and getting through the basic minimum at work is the standard practice, does the urge to set benchmarks of quality and excellence become redundant? How many of us go through life simply trying to fulfill the basics and how many set out to achieve true excellence? Steve Jobs the late CEO from Apple was one of those special few with the talent from the Gods with the determination to drive for excellence. In this paper, I will show how Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple utilized and applied four critical elements to guide him to pursuit of personal excellence: Focus, Innovation, Leadership and Charisma.

’Excellence’ is defined in the Oxford dictionary as superiority, the quality or state of being outstanding or extremely good (Oxford University Press 2012). What did Steve Jobs, Larry Page & Sergey Brin, Bill Gates and Richard Branson have in common? Their names and faces are linked with their respective companies on leadership, innovation and charisma of its leaders. After all, companies such as Toyota, 3M, Samsung and Logitech are also recognized, but the face to the names like Apple, Google, Microsoft or Virgin regularly are recurring headlines for management and magazines and stories of their symbolic leaders. Whether you are an athlete, a teacher, or a promising high achiever in another walk of life, you can achieve excellence.

At a time when numbers speak, performance is equal to profit and getting through the basic minimum at work is the standard practice, does the urge to set benchmarks of quality and excellence become redundant? How many of us go through life simply trying to fulfill the basics and how many set out to achieve true excellence? Steve Jobs, the late CEO from Apple, was one of those special few with the talent from the Gods with the determination to drive for excellence. In this paper I will show how Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, utilized and applied four critical elements to guide him to pursuit of personal excellence: Focus & Vision, Innovation, Leadership and Management & Charisma. FOCUS & VISON

“Focus is the first and most important element of excellence, Focus is the core of excellence, the center of the circle, the hub of the wheel of excellence”, (Orlick, 2008). Steve Jobs realized the great importance of focus and when he returned to lead Apple in 1997, he fixed that company by cutting all except a few core products. His basic focus caused his Apple team to work intensely to perfect and create just a few truly great products. He possessed incredible strength and the full power of focus. Along with his intense focus there was a dedication to simplicity not only in the end-product but also with the team at the home office. Steve Jobs’ products were his motivation. And his motivation was not profit. He demonstrated how to challenge his focus during the development and manufacturing of the Apple computers. Later, this was further emphasized with the development of his team and spearheaded the development of some of the unique electronic products on the planet, such as iMacs, MacBooks, iPhones, iPods and most recently iPad. In addition, many years ahead of its time, his vision and passion for futuristic products, such as making a computer as small as a book, (Isaacson 2011, Chapter 9). INNOVATION

“Some leaders push innovations by being good at the big picture; others do so by mastering the details. Jobs did both relentlessly.” (Isaacson 2011). When he died on Oct. 5, 2011 at the age of 56, Steve Jobs, co-founder and chief executive officer of Apple, had 241 patents registered in his name or as co-inventor. The most successful and revolutionary of these innovations have become indispensable to millions of people worldwide for their work, for their leisure time, for the way they interact with others. Innovation sits in a hidden place because very few people can find new ideas and self-confidence to stick to their firmness of belief. Innovation takes self-assurance, courage, and the discipline to ignore negative opinions. Steve Jobs changed the world with his many creations at Apple and Pixar Films. “Steve Jobs became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford.

Was he smart, no, not exceptionally; instead, he was a genius? His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times, magical.” (Isaacson 2011). In 1977, when Apple had begun selling a new personal computer, the Apple II, Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment said, “There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home” Thank goodness Steve Jobs had the faith to believe in his vision to put a computer into the hands of everyday people. And it’s amazing how many laptops and desktops computer today mimic the look and feel of MacBooks and iMacs. Steve Jobs was also the man who nearly single-handedly disrupted the entire music industry with the introduction of iPods then with iPhones and iPad. Few individuals have such courage, to believe in their principles and to stand up the way Steve Jobs did. There are Seven Principles of Innovation, (Gallo 2010), inspired by the master himself, Steve Jobs, which could used to help drive individuals and organizations, the secrets of innovation. LEADERSHIP

A good innovation leader is characterized by the ability to excel on the apparently conflicting skills of creativity and discipline. Innovation leaders have a strong ability to recognize opportunities and to develop them (Bel 2010). Leading the people who make innovation happen, this involves being a role model by demonstrating one’s own involvement and energy. Steve Jobs at Apple is an excellent example of leading by example. At the conceptual stage of his career and leader of Apple, Steve Jobs demonstrated his leadership and fast paced tale of friendship-partnership with co-founder of the company, Stephen Wozniak, an intellectual wizard and electronically savvy maverick, (Isaacson 2011, Ch2). Everyone credited Apple II technology to Wozniak, Steve Jobs was very content with that and hence was ready to pursue the next great advance. At the birth of Apple II, significant capital investments needed for marketing, so Steve Jobs hired Mike Markulla who would end up playing a critical role for Apple for the next two decades.

Mike Markulla engineered Apple marketing philosophy, which Steve Jobs humbly imbibed and learned to master, (Isaacson 2011, Ch6). Steve Jobs further demonstrated the leader in him who laid subdued more because of his obnoxious behavior to those around. But after the launch of Macintosh, he presented each of them with personalized plaque, sending a clear sign that he honored the team that made it all. There was one period when his leadership and judgment were questionable, glorifying his own behavior as a pirate, he proceed to do whatever necessary, regardless of whom he hurts, to bring the Macintosh to the marketplace. The answer to a question about whether Apple’s successes were a product of Steve Jobs particular personality has to be as complex as Steve Jobs. It was demonstrated, (Young 1988) in showing both why people who associated with Steve Jobs loved him and why they hated him, and why many people stayed at Apple even though by most standards they were treated very badly. Most people like Jobs’ vision, magnetism, charm drive and passion as a leader. MANAGEMENT & CHARISMA

Charisma, a term introduced by Weber (1947) to describe extraordinary gifted, esteemed and influential leaders, has become a key concept in transformational business leadership studies in the last few decades. One especially critical quality that has come to be associated with charismatic leadership is outstanding rhetorical ability (Awamleh and Gardner, 1999). Steve Jobs provides ample illustration of the use of management strategies to resolve potentially damaging conflicts faced by a charismatic leader. In a television documentary- “Triumph of the Nerds” (Cringely, 1996), Jobs presented himself as exemplary through his relentless commitment to a worthy cause, namely the continued success of Apple as a computer company committed to bringing a user-friendly and aesthetically designed computer to the people. In addition, he projected to the target audience desired charismatic identity images, such as competence, vision, confidence and energy. Steve Jobs aligned himself with a bunch of relative experts (hardware hobbyists) while simultaneously aligning with the enthusiastic novices (software hobbyists).

In doing so, he acquired the attributes of both groups, which paved the way for the development of Apple II by Wozniak, although he played an intricate part on case hardware design and was the ‘expert’ aesthetics. In doing so he balanced the inclusive and exclusive aspects of the charismatic relationship. He was self-sacrificing in that he would gladly incur financial risks in the pursuit of his vision. For instance, on his return to Apple in 1997, Jobs’ asked for just US$1 a year salary, a demonstration of his commitment to the task of turning Apple around. That famous tag at working for $1 a year, and thereafter demanding huge options, were eyed suspiciously by the Board at Apple, which felt contradicted with the principle that he did not work for money. (Isaacson 2011, ch34), as Michael Malone put it in his biography of Apple: “With Steve Jobs, the brilliant always came with the beastly” (Malone 1999, p.262). Steve Jobs presented himself and his organization in a positive light, and his competitors in a negative light. He used this management strategy that kept the organization always in competition and almost daily driving continuous improvement.

This strategy demonstrated in the making of the iPhones and the meticulously hard work that he put in everyday, right from the glass used for its manufacture, to major last minute revision to defy heretics and critics alike who understand Steve Jobs product. By end of 2010, Apple had ninety million iPhones and it reaped more than half the total profits generated in the global cell phone market (Isaacson 201, ch35). It was cleared that Steve Jobs has created a team and structure that are capable of functioning splendidly even without him at the helm. This was most recently in evidence with the launch of the original iPad. Steve was on leave most of the time during the final stages of iPad development and launch. Over the years, Steve Jobs had generated a nearly uncanny ability to recognize talents and to recruit almost everyone he had ever set eyes on. The result is a team that inspires confidence for the future, the results so far speaks for themselves. CONCLUSION- Payoff

The brightest heaven of invention with the series of products over three decades that transformed whole industries, Steve Jobs quoted, “My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products…Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want’ but, that is not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they are going to want before they do” (Isaacson 2011). Moreover, that he did! By end of 2010, Apple had sold ninety million iPhones and it reaped more than half the total profits generated in the global cell phone market. The iPad proved to be another product with sales topping billions of dollars in the first couple of months, bringing new life to a segment of the computer market that until then had been essentially declining. Apple, the largest public company in the United States, now makes up more than 4% of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and almost 18% of the Nasdaq-100. On some days, Apple alone can determine whether broad stock index are up or down (Levisohn 2012). Since Apple rolled out the iPhones in 2007, Apple stock price has soared sevenfold (Appendix A) – but its profits have increased by 1,200%. Steve Jobs can be portrayed as a genius whom we all like to emulate!


Awamleh, R. and Gardner, W. (1999), “Perception of leader charisma and effectiveness: the effects of vision content, delivery, and organizational performance”, Leadership Quarterly, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 345-74.

Bel, Roland, Leadership and Innovation: Learning from the best, Global Business & Organizational Excellence, Jan/Feb2010, Vol 29 Issue 2, P 47-60.

Cringely, R (1996), Triumph of the Nerds, (videorecording), Ambrose Video Publishing, New York, NY. (Transcript: www.pbs.org/nerds/transcripthtml)

Gallo, Carmine (2010), The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. McGraw – Hill, New York, NY. Isaacson, Walter (2011), Steve Jobs. 1955- 2011. Simon & Schuster, New York Levisohn, Ben; Light, Joe. Wall Street Journal, New York, NY. 21 Apr 2012: B.7.

Malone, M (1999), Infinite Loop, Doubleday, New York, NY.
Orlick, Terry (2008), In Pursuit of Excellence, Human Kinetics

Oxford Dictionary (2012), Oxford University Press
Weber, M (1947), The Theory of Social and Economics Organization (trans. by A-M. Henderson and T. Parsons), The Free Press, New York, NY.

Young, Jeffrey S. (1991) Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward. Scott, Foreman and Company.

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