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Why People Listen When Steve Jobs Speaks

Arguably, the most anticipated speech by a corporate CEO is Steve Jobs' annual keynote address at the Macworld conference. Feeding the needs of Apple loyalists eager to hear what Jobs had to say this year, Web sites like engadget.com posted live written updates of his remarks as he made them. Shortly after his speech, visitors to Apple's Web site could download video of Jobs' entire presentation. And in the days that followed, newspapers, PC industry Web sites, and bloggers analyzed everything Jobs said--and looked for hidden meanings in what he left unsaid.

How does the CEO of a company with a meager 4 percent of U.S. market share in its industry attract so much interest when he speaks? Because Steve Jobs is the Apple user's hero. In his book, The Cult of Mac, Leander Kahney writes, "The biannual Macworld conference is often compared to a religious revival meeting, where Steve Jobs is worshipped like a rock star or a charismatic cult leader."

I'm not sure we should label Jobs as a cult figure, but it is fair to say that he has a special connection with his customers. His presentation at Macworld would suggest that he considers himself a geek first and a CEO second. Dressed to defy in jeans and a turtleneck, he looked nothing like a conforming corporate-world Dell user and everything like the typical Mac devotee: creative types who delight in knowing that their computers are incompatible with the masses. Rather than just telling his audience about Apple's new gadgets, he enamored them by sitting down at a keyboard and demonstrating the added features. And if there's one thing a geek respects, it's another geek who knows his stuff.

What distinguishes great leaders like Steve Jobs is the ability to share their with those they lead. Some people confuse that idea with the image of prophets, futurists, or renegades attempting to attract followers with radical or extreme ideas. Just the opposite is true. The best leaders enlist people by identifying the interests they have in common, and showing them how they can work together to satisfy their mutual needs. It's a heart-felt approach that convinces people to buy--and to buy in.
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