Of Muppets and iPhones: The Impact of Unique Leadership Styles

Jim Henson created a world of imagination and ingenuity where all were welcome to share his vision and add to his collective genius.

Steve Jobs earnestly wanted to change the world with usable technology and demanded excellence in all of his pursuits. Both were wildly successful innovators and leaders, who came to the success via very different paths.

Jim Henson provided Kermit the Frog his heart, soul and voice for many years. In the Muppet Movie, Kermit said:

“I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well, I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And it kind of makes us like a family.”

The was Jim Henson’s leadership style in a nutshell. His longtime friend and agent, Bernie Brillstein noted, ““Jim inspired people to be better than they thought they could be. …And he did it all without raising his voice.”

Conversely, Steve Jobs didn’t suffer fools lightly. He was an unconventional leader and his management style wasn’t the stuff of university textbooks. Jobs wasn’t known for his consultative or consensus building approach, he was known for his vision and unyielding passion of excellence in everything that he did.

In his article for Fast Company Chris Gayomali argues that:

“As much as many may want to take leadership lessons from Jobs, it’s not the best idea… I think that a lot of people look at Jobs and think being headstrong is the way to go, but they haven’t understood the subtleties of his management skills. Headstrong is a small part of being a successful manager — in fact, it’s not necessary at all. It worked for Steve. But that’s no reason it should work for someone else. Steve’s management style was very much in keeping with who he was, and that should probably be the first thing a manager asks himself — am I posing, or is this really me? If the answer is posing, it’s time to find a new style.”

This is not a right or wrong equation. Some styles work for one person but not for another. I think the real message here is self-awareness and being honest with yourself as a leader.

If either Henson or Jobs tried to lead using each other’s style, it would have been disingenuous and would have most likely failed. Ultimately, they remained true to who they were and succeeded fearlessly.

Sims Wyeth provided us with 10 Powerful Ways to Become a Fearless Leader. As I read through these, I saw an interesting blend of both Jobs and Henson — what do you think?

  1. Encourage a person’s talent. Nurture that talent, and motivate people to look to themselves for ongoing development.
  2. Be a teacher. Empower the people who work with you.
  3. Be patient. You are developing people, not showing how smart you are. Henson did not need to display a big ego, and heaven knows he had a lot to crow about.
  4. Create an infectious mood of laughter. Yes — you can do serious creative work and have fun at the same time.
  5. Hear the genius in people. Find a way to make others’ ideas work.
  6. Treat failures as experiments. Take setbacks as lessons on the way to something great.
  7. Love your work. But also like and appreciate the people who are sharing it with you.
  8. Enjoy success. Not just your own, but also the accomplishments of people around you. Helping them be great does not diminish you.
  9. Be unafraid. Try new things — it’s the only way innovation happens, really.
  10. Be a role model. Be fearless, hardworking, generous, and calm. That combination of attitudes will spread and be as contagious for you.
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