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“Jobs” the Film: Can a Narcissistic Bully be a Good Leader?

I just went to see “Jobs” the film. A warning: the opening scenes are cringe-worthy and I almost walked out. It gets better after that although never great. But it’s pretty accurate in its view of Jobs.

The view of the film is pretty much summed up by Jobs’ first and only real boss who tells him “You’re good but you’re an asshole”. The film shows plenty of evidence of that ranging from his treatment of employees and his ethical failures both with money and personal relationships.

Actually the film is pretty sympathetic overall and doesn’t show him at his worst. That’s because, amongst other thing, he was narcissistic, vindictive, thin-skinned, couldn’t work with others, a bully, and constantly humiliated his employees publicly. I guess the film didn’t want to go into all of that, because Jobs has become, justifiably, such an icon.

But this is one of the outstanding leaders of our time! He built possibly the most well-known and successful company of all time. He was visionary, persistent against all the odds, recognized and built talent in others and had amazing business acumen.

But it’s clear that, had he ever been assessed formally for his leadership qualities, in the vast majority of companies he would have failed miserably.

Most formal leadership models are based on competency and personality assessments that would have rated Jobs very low on most leadership scales. So was he a bad leader or are our leadership models wrong, or at least badly flawed?

It’s still the case that the vast majority of leadership approaches are not results-based. Jobs would have done very well on such a test. But competency and personality approaches have no framework to do that. That’s where the assessments from Perth Leadership excel. They were designed precisely to address this problem.

I am not suggesting that traditional competency and personality models are wrong or not useful. It’s just that they don’t look at hard results. So they are not going to pick anyone like Steve Jobs as a potential leader.

But shouldn’t our aim to be to find more leaders like Jobs, not less?



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