With the kids finally in bed at my parents’ house in Richmond, I grabbed my iPhone for a quick peek at my Twitter feed for the Tuesday of Fall Break. I was shocked to learn of the passing of Steve Jobs, founder and leader of the iconic Apple Computer Co. Time Magazine called Jobs "the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now." The words innovator, revolutionary, visionary were passed around easily on Twitter, Facebook and read most often on an iPhone, iPad, or desktop Mac.
Equally amazing was that America also lost two other visionary, transformative leaders that same week: Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, civil rights leader, and Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders and one of the men primarily responsible for the creation of the modern NFL.
As with all great leaders, there are lessons that we can learn from each of these men individually but also by exploring qualities they had in common.
Perhaps ironically, as we now celebrate them, we should note that all could be difficult to get along with. Their passion demanded that everyone around them achieve at their highest level. Their passion and honesty could at times appear to be blunt or unkind. In reality, most great leaders are not easy to get along with because they most often tell us what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear.
Great leaders are also, at least at times, unpopular. Jobs was fired from the company he founded. Shuttlesworth faced attack dogs and fire hoses as he strove to integrate Birmingham, Alabama. Davis loved the fact that the silver and black Raiders were personified as the "bad guys" of the NFL. Fighting against the prevailing wisdom is not always popular but without those willing to challenge the status quo advancement never occurs.
In each case their popularity grew because of their steadfast devotion to their principles and commitment to their cause. These qualities combined with a willingness to innovate, and, perhaps most importantly, to show bravery in the face of adversity. They were not fearless men but rather they were able to place fear aside and demonstrate great courage.
* The title of this post is from Steve Jobs', Commencement Address at Stanford University, 2005, his closing advice to the graduates, which he took from the final issue of The Whole Earth Catalog.