Don’t Idolize Steve Jobs

In the weeks after the death of Steve Jobs,  I became a little concerned about the many fawning tributes to Steve Jobs.  Everywhere I turned there was another story about his great leadership. It’s not that I dislike Apple products (I own an iPhone and love it,  in a zombie apocalypse I would take it with me in hopes there was an app for how to kill zombies) or that I think Steve Jobs was a bad business man or lacked vision.  In fact,   I believe Steve Jobs is one of the greatest technical and marketing visionaries ever.  The day after his death was announced I posted a video of what is probably the best commencement speech I’ve ever heard.

The problem I have with the fawning over Steve Jobs is pretty simple to lay out:

Steve Jobs was not exactly a “nice” person.  He was known to frequently berate employee’s and vendors that he worked with.  In fact he even berated the smoothie lady at Whole Foods, come on! The lady who makes your smoothie?

If you Google the terms “Steve Jobs” and “a**hole”,  you get an astounding 3,470,000 results! Googling “Mark Zuckerberg”  and “a**hole” returns 149,000 results and Googling “Steve Ballmer” and “a**hole”,  returns 210,000 results.  To get a quick overview of the various jerk tendencies he exhibited check out this article from Business Insider.

Steve Jobs was such a genius and visionary that many people probably looked the other way or just wrote it off as the cost of doing business with Apple.  Geniuses across time have been known to be temperamental and moody and there can be some limited virtues to working with jerks, as Bob Sutton explains in chapter six of his excellent book the The No Asshole Rule.

My concern is that people reading about Steve Jobs will overlook or make excuses for his behavior or think that it is okay to act that way because it benefits technology and people who use technology. I’m throwing the yellow penalty flag on that.  Frankly,  many of the things Steve Jobs did would not fly at most companies,  he flouted all of the “management rules” and was successful at it,  but that is because he was an extraordinary person and could get away with it,  most of us can’t and shouldn’t try his methods.

Steve Jobs was a tough business man and I probably would have fired the guy who rolled out MobileMe too (I wouldn’t do in front of a group though),  but I don’t think we should be idolizing him as a model for leadership.  I’m not sure Steve Jobs would want us to either.



2 Replies to “Don’t Idolize Steve Jobs”

  1. What if we just drop the whole idolize, adore, fan, and fawn thing and recognize that the good, the bad and the ugly comes in human form. Let us recognize the good, acknowledge the bad for what it is and refuse to copy the ugly. While the original commentary focussed on Mr. Jobs in an almost unbelievable positive trend, the current trend is headed toward making him out to be the worst human ever. He was a person, with flaws and skills. His ability to get away with bad behaviour over an extended period of time was aided and abetted by those around him.

    1. I think the recent release of his biography has definitely highlighted some of the negative facets of Jobs’ personality that people may not have been aware of. Too piggy-back off your final sentence, I absolutely agree his bad behavior was “aided and abetted by those around him.” The challenge for HR professionals is weeding out and discouraging that kind of behavior in all employee’s, but especially management. In some organizations this may not be possible, depending on the “genius” running it.
      Thanks for commenting, I appreciate the thoughtful response.

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