Steve Jobs: a transformational leader?

Was Steve Jobs's obnoxious personality necessary for the beauty he brought into our world?

I've been thinking about the world differently since reading his autobiography. I've been looking at file cabinets and thinking about how they could be designed more beautifully. I've been telling myself if toilet stalls could be designed more beautifully. His obsession with elegance, beauty led to that. That he cared about it. At the same time, I compare him against Riggio and Bass's four aspects of a transformational leader. He certainly had inspirational motivation but he didn't have individualized concern. He was not an idealized influence. He was not somebody anyone wanted to be like. He did have intellectual engagement. So he passes two out of their four tests for a transformational leader. Seems to me that makes him a leader who transformed our world but not a transformational leader. So the larger question I'm asking is could he have brought about the beauty that he brought to computing without being as obnoxious as he was? By being a transformational leader who transformed an industry. What do you think?

Come see who truly is a transformational leader. Muhammad Yunus will be awarded the 2012 Transformational Leadership Award in Chicago April 27-28. Join us in honoring his creation of beauty and transformation of the microfinance industry at the award dinner and symposium.

9 Responses to “Steve Jobs: a transformational leader?”

  1. eric masi Says:

    I think this is a big question and topic to raise. We tend to celebrate historic figures for the big things they did, but we don’t always dig into the details of how they led. Could they have affected more positive change? And how can we individually affect greater positive change?

  2. Lori Jafffe Zwell Says:

    Bob, you ask a very interesting question about what defines transformational leadership and whether or not Steve Jobs was a transformation leader. I believe he most definitely transformed the world and wonder if his way of being, that he tended to be ‘obnoxious’ caused him not to be an ‘idealized influence’. I am not clear about what that means and want to better understand your distinctions. The events – the award dinner and symposium in Chicago April 27 – 28 with Dr. Yunus offers me an opportunity to get a better insight into transformational leadership. I will not miss this and want to continue a deeper inquiry into what defines transformational leadership and how can I become a more effective leader in my own life.

  3. Dr. David Banner Says:

    Bob, this is an intriguing question. I’d like to view it through the lens of the Enneagram, a spiritually-focused personality instrument. It is clear that Jobs was a Type 1, The Perfectionist. 1′s are typically demanding on themselves and others, extremely hard workers with zero tolerance for “mistakes.”So, the culture he created does have a transformational bent, but I agree with you; he himself does not fit the mold of the transformational leader.Yet, his leadership did create a company that regularly “thought outside the box”, for outrageous solutions to problems and elegant designs.

    Interesting question to ponder; thanks, Bob!


  4. wrightliving Says:

    I don’t think his being obnoxious is idealized influence but I do think his orientation to excellence would be. I’m glad you’re coming to the symposium as we’ll be getting more deeply into the social and emotional intelligence aspects of transformational leadership which will be huge.

  5. wrightliving Says:

    In coaching however, I’m often very circumspect when dealing with genius and something that works well thinking about how to work it better. From our perspective our job is to facilitate the emergence of the next most radiant self. In Jobs’ case, I’ve imagined that could be a more inclusive magnanimous person. Jobs could have called people to excellence with less invalidation. There was a profound need that manifested to dominate people that started with him learning to stare people down and cause them to carry anxiety in many interactions. Were he really secure I suspect he could have harnessed that energy more effectively. Second guessing others is really cheap. I often watch Michael Jordan and think I know what he should have been doing. Truth of the matter is, I couldn’t even get two dribbles in a row with Jordan on a basketball court. So I am skeptical of second guessing Steve Jobs who has manifested at the level of Michael Jordan.

  6. wrightliving Says:

    David, great point. He is clearly fixated at perfectionist and he does not show a concern for others and he is not someone that we would like to be like.

  7. Savannah Walters Says:

    I’ve read Steve Jobs’ authorized biography and mulled over/discussed with others several times – the very question Dr. Bob brings up. I’ve been an Apple girl since the get-go and am an avid iPad2 fan today. There’s no way I cannot deeply value and admire the determination and vision Jobs had nor the stellar level of achievement
    he attained.

    That said – I feel equally as sorry for him. He left an incredible amount of human emotional carnage in his wake. He lived his life unaware of the value and strength of committed community. Being tough is okay, even desirable, but his rampant lack of respect and concern for others – is totally unacceptable to me. I cannot be convinced that his achievements, (as utterly amazing as they are), would not have been far greater had he showed regard for those he worked and dealt with.

    I do not particularly have to like someone to produce well under their leadership – but I do have to respect them. Attempted intimidation antics serve only to ignite my stubbornness – not my cooperation. That Jobs was a genius is not under scrutiny. I believe that ultimately it was his narcissistic personality that took him down and very likely contributed to the deterioration of his health. How can a toxic mind and heart not poison the rest of the body? I give Jobs tremendous credit for allowing his biographer to tell the truth about him and his life. I eagerly await the movie version… even though I know how the story ends.

  8. wrightliving Says:

    What a great balanced perspective on Jobs’ pluses and minuses. I, too, wonder what would have happened if he had been better able to touch people’s hearts even more deeply. I still give him an enormous amount of credit for being able to maintain the loyalty he did maintain in the face of the abuses that he heaped on people. I don’t give him credit as a transformational leader as we’ve definied it in the past, but he certainly has transformed our world with what he’s done. I love your question of what he might have done, if he had not, in your words “poisoned the rest of the body” with his toxic mind and heart. What a fantastic point you bring to this conversation. Thanks, Bob.

  9. Ricardo Rodriguez Says:

    You have posed a most interesting question. I would like to look at Steve Jobs another way and perhaps you can add some insight. Steve as is well known was adopted at birth. He never got to know his biological parents while growing up and met his biological sister Mona Simpson when she was age 25.
    Mona is a well respected writer and author who like her brother Steve had little contact with her Father Abdulfattah “John” Jandali.

    My questions revolves around Job’s early formative years.
    Is it possible that Steve Jobs spend his adult life in competition with his biological Father? The Man he never knew. The man who gave him up at birth. Can you provide some insight into the trauma Jobs had knowing he was given up at birth, the fears, hurts, sadness he must have felt. I realize that this is a guess on your end but I know with your years of experience you can provide a meaningful response.

    Also consider Steve’s relationship with his sister Mona Simpson. Was she the spark in his life that drove him to be more creative and have more of a purpose in this world?
    As you well know Mona and Steve developed a very close relationship after they meet in 1985. She loved him dearly and perhaps that connection drove him in a more positive direction. Few people remember that in 1985 Jobs was driven from Apple and he did not return until 1996.

    I found most touching and telling Mona Simpson’s eulogy published in the New York Times ” I grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people. Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.”

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This entry was posted on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 at 11:47 am and is filed under Chicago, Coaching, Dr. Bob Wright, Personal Growth, TL330, Transformational Leadership, Wright. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.