I Attended an Ivy League University's Most Popular MBA Leadership Class and Learned How Steve Jobs Became a Better Leader in 10 Minutes

Hitendra Wadhwa, professor of practice at Columbia Business School and founder of Mentora Institute, teaches the university’s most popular class on personal leadership and success — two topics that most business students are eager to learn more about.

That much was clear on the rainy January day when I sat in on the afternoon session of Wadhwa’s course; despite the dreary weather, the energy was palpable, with every seat taken and some attendees even standing in the back.

Wadhwa wrote the literal book on looking inward to find outward success. In Inner Mastery, Outer Impact: How Your Five Core Energies Hold the Key to Success, Wadhwa reveals how activating purpose, wisdom, growth, love and self-realization can help people make a real mark on the world.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Mentora Institute. Hitendra Wadhwa.

Related: 8 Inspirational Quotes on Leadership, Courage and Success From Nelson Mandela

During the session I attended, Wadhwa relayed a compelling story about Steve Jobs that captures those core energies in action — and shows that the best leaders are willing to pivot, even when it’s difficult.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

The story starts in 2001, just before Apple was set to open its first retail store. Ron Johnson, the company’s senior vice president of retail from 2000 to 2011, was riding to a weekly planning meeting with Jobs when he shared his concerns about the proposed layout of the new store.

Like most retail outlets, Apple planned to organize its store by product. But Johnson saw an opportunity to design it according to activity, like making movies or listening to music, and lean into the innovation that had already helped Jobs’ brainchild become a category of one.

But Jobs wasn’t having it: The store’s opening was fast approaching, and he didn’t think there was time for a complete overhaul. Johnson and Jobs sat with the tension of that disagreement as they rode the rest of the way to the meeting.

Related: As Steve Jobs Once Said, ‘People With Passion Can Change The World’

Then, about 10 minutes later, the pair walked into the meeting, and Jobs surprised Johnson by telling the team that Johnson believed the store’s design was completely misguided — and that he agreed. Jobs said he was going to step aside while they all worked together to figure out the best way forward.

By telling the story about Johnson and Jobs, Wadhwa makes an invaluable point: The kind of leader someone is in one moment doesn’t have to dictate the kind of leader they’ll be in the next. A willingness to change your mind and think outside of the box, even when it means additional challenges in the short term, isn’t a weakness — it’s a strength.

And, as Jobs himself once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Related: Is Your Leadership Style More Steve Jobs or Elon Musk? Here’s How to Tell — And Why It Matters.

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