The People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” –Apple’s “Think Different” commercial, 1997.

At the time this ad campaign ran, this statement encapsulated Apple’s vision, but 15 years later, it rings true as a Steve Jobs’ epitaph. Jobs, who founded and grew Apple for 9 years, was ousted and in exile for 15 years, and then returned to lead the company on a 14-year campaign to glory, cuts a contemporary heroic figure. Fearless, focused, and flawed—Jobs is a study in leadership.

In the April 2012 Harvard Business Review, biographer Walter Isaacson summarizes the keys to Jobs’ success:

  • Focus
  • Simplify
  • Take responsibility end to end
  • When behind, leapfrog
  • Put products before profits
  • Don’t be a slave to focus groups
  • Bend reality
  • Impute
  • Push for perfection
  • Tolerate only “A” players
  • Engage face-to-face
  • Know both the big picture and the details
  • Combine the humanities with the sciences
  • Stay hungry, stay foolish

You’ll notice obvious omissions such as treating others with respect, coaching and developing others, personal integrity, flexibility and adaptability, teamwork, effective negotiation, and interpersonal relationships.  Had he taken a 360 Feedback Survey, his results would have been very interesting.

In fact, Jobs was well known for his lack of emotional intelligence—if he was self-aware, he did not use that awareness to self-regulate and to build collegial relationships. Instead he shamelessly manipulated others, threw tantrums, screamed insults, and provoked controversy.

How, then, was he able to build a loyal cadre of highly intelligent and capable followers—those who feel they were the luckiest alive to have had the chance to work with him? Why do his business rivals hail his success while nursing their battle wounds? How can his wife and children pardon his perpetual neglect?

In the end, should Steve Jobs a role model for other leaders? Why or why not? What have you seen happen with and to aspiring leaders who have exhibited his worst behaviors?  Have their intelligence and uncompromising push for excellence compensated for the deficiencies?

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About Linda Linfield

Linda holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in Communications from Brigham Young University, where she subsequently taught strategic planning and writing courses. She is certified in facilitating and leading workshops in various psychometric assessments, and has led customized leadership programs in more than 30 countries. View Bio

4 comments — View
  • One could ask was Steve Jobs being true to his values and it sounds like he acted the way he was because it’s who he was. Did he promote coaching, giving positive feedback, caring of his people? I don’t think he did and people knew that about him. Those that stuck around did so becuase they were tough enough to be able to separate the negative behavior from the learning opportunity. They got to see a visionary in action (even when it wasn’t so pretty) and took away alot from it. However, the fear is that they also took away the bad behaviors as the right way to lead people.

    I’ve experienced leaders who have yelled and humilated people in public. The negative behavior brought out positive results because people did everything they could to avoid that bad experience. However, I also saw those people’s character diminish. They lost their human factor – they treated the people around them in the same manner and the bad behavior perpetuated through the company. The managers didn’t know how to be considerate anymore. It was a dysfuncitonal work environment and one that no one was happy in. Those in it didn’t feel they were good enough to work any where else so they felt they had to stay. It was a terrrible place to work; the business was successful but the character of the employees was one I didn’t want to be aroung. I was fortunate enough to leave the environment and relearn to be myself again and believe that whoever I was was okay . I can only hope that others had the same opportunity when they left and got reaquainted with who they really were. A leader has to be be truthful to themselves and their values. When they are truthful and tell the truth to those they are leading – that’s when you have a leader that people will follow till the end.

  • Above all, you do want to be part of a winning team. That is what Jobs provided and that seemed enough and ‘tolerable’ to the bright people around him.

  • Passion, even passion sometimes projected in a negative manner by a leader or professional, is of greater value than lack of drive and mediocre work ethic that gets many by. Those leaders who try to get along and tip toe around sensitive individuals in order to get them to live to their full professional capacity will never uncover their employee’s full potential.

  • It may very well have been his raw honesty, quest for perfection–even to the point of putting product over profit, and willingness to take responsibility from start to finish, that drew people to him. In an age where leaders are unethical, people are lied to, and profit comes before quality, people were willing to overlook his flawed delivery. Although I never met the man, I would also be willing to bet he allowed himself to be vulnerable and admit to his flaws. This is much different than a narcissistic tyrant, who rules by fear. Can you see how this significant difference would have resulted in a very different outcome?

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