Learning leadership

Steve Jobs passed away on Oct. 5. As a leader, Jobs marketed the first personal computers, turned Apple from a garage business into  the world’s most valuable brand, changed the way people use personal computers and listen to music and put the Internet into our pockets. Jobs’s legacy will be hard to surpass, and his leadership skills have always commanded an aura of respect and admiration. Despite some shortcomings and personality quirks, Jobs’s legacy also holds many lessons for student leaders at the College.

Jobs made Apple into the most profitable company in the world, an accomplishment that was made possible because he perceived the world differently than his competitors. Jobs thought differently, and took a different path in the technology industry. By focusing on hardware as well as software, priding quality over quantity and infusing products with a sense of aesthetic art, Jobs allowed Apple to gain a loyal customer base that rapidly expanded. Jobs always considered himself an artist at heart, and would recall that learning calligraphy at Reed College gave him a sense of artistic vision, and that his trips to India, in which he explored Hinduism, gave him a vision of changing the world. Jobs triumphed over his business school-educated competitors because he was educated in many fields and could combine his diverse repertoire of skills into a truly creative vision. An effective leader must be familiar with a diverse range of subjects in order to have a grand vision. At the College, we are given the opportunity to receive perhaps the most comprehensive and diverse education in the nation, which will provide us with the knowledge necessary to navigate a world of ever-changing circumstances. We can do this for ourselves in the classroom, and by taking advantage of the intellectual opportunities outside. For example, last night, the College recently ran the second edition of Williams Thinking, a series of lectures by faculty members representing a variety of academic fields, which allow students to gain insight into ideas that matter in today’s world. Meanwhile, the upcoming lecture ‘The Greatest Revolution’ by Associat Professor of History Magnus Bernhardsson, will allow students to explore relations between the U.S. and the Islamic world. In a greater sense, the presentation can also allow students to understand how to successfully interact with people who come from different backgrounds.

Jobs made Apple a global brand because he actively brought Apple to the public; his presentations at Macworld have become famous examples of showmanship, and he contributed to Apple’s rise to the world’s most recognizable brand. This is an example of how a good leader cannot wait for others to come to him; he must bring himself to others. At the beginning of this year, the Office of Campus Life became the Office of Student Life, and now focuses on improving student leadership on campus and improving student life outside the classroom. Student Life is now becoming more accessible by advertising its resources more directly to the student body, and by expanding Willipedia to make information regarding all student organizations easily available to everyone. But student leadership in many organizations is still lacking accessibility. About half of the student organizations listed on Willipedia, including big-name organizations such as Model UN and the Rape and Sexual Assault Network, have zero information posted on the database. By not having any contact information or meeting times posted on Willipedia, which is widely used by students now, the leaders of those student organizations make it difficult for potential new members to join, and thus hinder their own potential for leadership.

Jobs’s combination of vision, creative versatility and accessibility allowed him to become a great leader. The creation of Williams Thinking is an example that shows that creative versatility is an integral part of the education at the College and that students can use this resource to become better student and future leaders. The transition from Campus Life to Student Life also shows that the accessibility aspect of leadership is being rigorously implemented on campus. Nevertheless, there are still improvements that can be made at the College regarding student leadership that will  improve both the skills of student leaders and the quality of their leadership.


Alex Sun ’15 is from Potomac, Md. He lives in Dennett. 

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