The Steve Jobs Paradox of Leadership

“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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