What did Steve Jobs think about self-starters?

If you want the short answer to this question, here it is: Steve Jobs loved self-starters.

The best evidence of this comes from when he was a young startup CEO in the 1980s. It was early days for Apple Inc. 

When he was interviewed around this time, Steve and his team gushed over hires who acted like a typical self-starter.

Steve Jobs’ main takeaway quote from that interview was this:

The greatest people are self managing… once they know what to do, they’ll go figure out how to do it.

Here’s a more ground-level perspective from one of Apple’s senior employees at the time, Andy Hertzfeld:

“We sat [job candidates] down in front of [the Macintosh prototype]… We wanted them to get real excited, and then we knew they were one of us. 

For senior front-line employees like Andy, excitement for the work wasn’t enough to hire someone. New hires were expected to contribute without being guided at every step:

We all knew what the computer should be and we just went and did it.

Hiring such people became part of the company’s culture. It might be the fuel Apple needed to move fast and compete against big players.


What do famous managers like about self-starters?

Here are 5 quotes from famous (at least in their industry) managers.

They share their thoughts on hiring people with self-starter qualities…

The founders of Basecamp, a popular software company Jeff Bezos invested in, wrote about about self-starters with a twist. According to them, self-starters are like “managers of one”:

When you’re hiring, seek out people who are managers of one… These people free you from oversight. They set their own direction. When you leave them alone, they surprise you with how much they’ve gotten done.

Basecamp,Hire managers of one

This next manager needs no introduction. Steve Jobs was a huge proponent of self-starters in Apple’s early days:

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. 

Steve Jobs

At some point in your life, you may have been told to read the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. He said that people who feel they fit in their role will often act like self-starters:

If you can hire people whose passion intersects with the job, they won’t require any supervision at all. They will manage themselves better than anyone could ever manage them. 

Stephen Covey

David Ogilvy’s name is renowned in the advertising world. In fact, some would consider him to be the grandfather of modern marketing. He was founder of one of the biggest ad firms ever. His take on self-starters:

Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.

David Ogilvy

Our last quote comes from someone who wasn’t a manager himself. But Jim Collins had to get in the mind of famous managers to write the best-selling books, Good to Great and Built to Last.

This is what his encounters with high performing managers taught him:

The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led–yes. But not tightly managed.”

Jim Collins