Former Apple CEO John Sculley reveals the skill that made Steve Jobs a 'brilliant' leader

Apple Inc.'s former CEO, the late Steve Jobs, announces the new iPad on January 27, 2010 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

As he's the co-founder of Apple and the visionary behind some of the world's leading personal computing innovations, few would question the late Steve Jobs' expertise.

But it was a rather more common interpersonal skill that turned him into a "brilliant" business leader, according to former Apple CEO John Sculley.

That skill? The ability to listen.

Sculley, who served as Apple's CEO for a decade from 1983 to 1993, told CNBC Make It that ability did not come naturally to Jobs. Rather, it took 12 years and a contentious departure from Apple to hone it.

Jobs famously resigned from Apple in 1985, aged 27, following a clash with Sculley (a former ally) and Apple board members over the strategic direction of the company.

In the 12 years that followed, Jobs founded another computer software company, NeXT, before returning to Apple in 1997.

Jobs 1.0 and Jobs 2.0

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 following the purchase of NeXT, he was a "different person," said Sculley, who previously led Pepsi.

He described Jobs' two tenures at Apple as Jobs 1.0 and Jobs 2.0.

Jobs 1.0 was characterized by unwavering ambition, but Jobs 2.0 was more mature and had a greater willingness to listen to others, Sculley said.

"Steve was brilliant in terms of seeing where the world would be 20 years in the future. He was so charismatic that he convinced himself, as much as he convinced other people, that he was always right," Sculley said of Jobs 1.0.

"But young Steve Jobs was not as good at listening as the Steve Jobs that came back years later," he continued, noting that it opened him up to new ways of thinking.

"His life experiences between 1.0 and 2.0 were obviously extremely influential."

Steve Jobs and John Sculley pose with the new Macintosh personal computer, on January 16th, 1984.
Marilyn K. Yee | New York Times Co. | Getty Images

In the years that followed Jobs' return to Apple, he was considered largely responsible for reviving the business from the edge of bankruptcy.

Today, under the leadership of Tim Cook, who replaced Jobs as CEO shortly before his death in 2011, Apple ranks as the world's second-largest public company by market capitalization.

The company is preceded by fellow tech giant Microsoft, whose CEO Satya Nadella Sculley called out as an example of a great listener.

Recently, Sculley said he met with Microsoft's chairman, John Thompson, and asked him how he accounts for Nadella's success, to which Thompson replied: "He's a superb listener and he has an open mind."

"It's that openness and willingness to listen," said Sculley, who said Nadella saved the businesses when it had "fallen off track."

"That really made a huge difference at Microsoft."

Don't miss: How Steve Jobs finally persuaded a 37-year-old Tim Cook to join a near-bankrupt Apple in 1998

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