Are You A Visionary or a Leader? Ask Steve Jobs


The new movie Jobs is out and has crashed and burned on impact at the box office. Even Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak weighed in with some tepid criticism: "I was attentive and entertained but not greatly enough to recommend the movie."

Television has done a better job. This weekend I watched "Pop Innovators Presents: Steve Jobs" on E! It presented, in a nutshell, the highlights of his life, his personal philosophy, his business vision, and his leadership style (or the lack thereof).

The continuing fascination with Steve Jobs is the desire to copy his unique brand of magic. But it's important to point out that he had vision, not leadership ability.

See for example this comment from Steve Wozniak in Gizmodo about the new biopic:

  • "I will add one detail left out of the film. When Apple decided not to reward early friends who helped, I gave them large blocks of my own stock. Because it was right. And I made it possible for 80 other employees to get some stock prior to the IPO so they could participate in the wealth."

Way back in 1987 the book Accidental Millionaire documented Jobs' erratic behavior and abusiveness. See excerpt from a book review in The New York Times:

  • "Many of those Mr. Butcher interviewed, including Mr. Wozniak, say that by the early 80's Mr. Jobs was widely hated at Apple. Senior management had to endure his temper tantrums. He created resentment among employees by turning some into stars and insulting others, often reducing them to tears. Mr. Jobs himself would frequently cry after fights with fellow executives."

In "The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs," his biographer, Walter Isaacson, noted that the business leader excused himself from acting with basic professionalism:

  • "The essence of Jobs, I think, is that his personality was integral to his way of doing business. He acted as if the normal rules didn’t apply to him, and the passion, intensity, and extreme emotionalism he brought to everyday life were things he also poured into the products he made. His petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism."

Isaacson actually had a conversation with Jobs in which Jobs excused his own behavior on the basis of his business results:

  • "I asked him again about his tendency to be rough on people. 'Look at the results,' he replied. 'These are all smart people I work with, and any of them could get a top job at another place if they were truly feeling brutalized. But they don’t.' Then he paused for a few moments and said, almost wistfully, “And we got some amazing things done.'

Personally I am moved by Jobs' personal beliefs, and his vision. Who cannot recall the 2005 Stanford commencement speech, which brought me to tears:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."

But I am not moved by the way Jobs treated people.

It is true that the iPad, the iPod, the iMac, and so on have transformed our lives for the better.

But you can't be a leader and also be an abusive person.

"Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition."

No matter what kind of genius you are, it is not OK to mistreat people. There is no excuse.

* All opinions my own.

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