Many consider the late Steve Jobs to be a genius.  He was a visionary credited with a long list of inventions and achievements.  His work lives on in the company he founded and the various iPods, Ipads, macs, apples and other assorted fruit. 

Mr. Jobs was also reported to be a pill.  He was said to be a difficult man to be around, an egomaniac with little empathy and ability work with others.  It was Steve’s way or the highway. 

An article, “Top 10 Ugliest Character Flaws of Steve Job’s Personality Those Made Him “Steve Jobs We Know Today”, argues that what seem like personality flaws actually contributed to his success and ability to achieve as he did.  The article notes: 

 “In spite of all top 10 ugliest flaws found in Steve Jobs personality, Steve Jobs is the most successful and victorious personality of the tech world. According to Eric Schmidt, Goggle’s Chairman, 'Steve Jobs is the best CEO of the past 50 years, may be 100 years”'. 

“We think that [the] top 10 ugliest flaws of Steve Jobs’ personality are, in fact, his top 10 strongest characteristic which made him 'Steve Jobs We Know Today' "

Mr. Jobs is not the first highly successful individual in public who was a pill in private.  We have all met versions of Steve Jobs:  egocentric, self-important blowhards who lack empathy and a long list of other civilizing skills.  Some of these individuals turn out to be superbly capable.  They have complete mastery of their profession.  They creatively understand the practical and theoretical, both at a detail and “big picture” level.  These talented individuals know the forest and the trees.  Better, they know how to plant the trees, harvest the wood and make a huge profit from the forest.  Unfortunately, their ability to work alongside other human beings is limited.


So it begs the question, really a classic question, does the public excellence justify the private misery?   Can we expect from our leaders excellence in both?  In his personal life and professional interactions, Mr. Jobs was reported to have caused much suffering to the people around him.  As a human being, until at least late in life when he seemingly woke up and smelled the coffee, he was a jerk.  But the body of his work helped to uplift humanity.  All of the gadgets and technology attributed to Jobs’ vision and ability led to untold delight, improvement and increased welfare. 

At my son’s recommendation, last week I read a book about World War II:  An Army at Dawn”, by Rick Atkinson.  The book describes the Allies’ victory over the Nazis in Africa.  Better than many works of historical non-fiction, the writing is personal.  The authors’ prescient analysis has a way of making you feel that the events are unfolding in real time.  Readers aren’t necessarily transported to the 1940’s, but they are presented a vision of what it may have felt like to be in that time and place.  According to Mr. Atkinson, a lot of that time and place was governed by the actions of egomaniacal generals.  Through the fog of war, and without the benefit of GPS, cell phones or Facebook, these deeply flawed human beings made foolish decisions, sending thousands of teenagers to early graves.  The generals were egotistical jerks.  Hindsight and historical evaluation are 20-20, but it’s hard to retreat from the book’s repeated theme of the connection between narcissistic ego and the resulting senseless death and destruction. 

And yet, maybe it all made sense in the big picture.  A general’s foolish decision to storm an impenetrable death trap resulted in wholesale slaughter.  But the Nazis ended up depleting their ammo in the slaughter, and soon they ran out of bullets and were overrun.  So by using young men as cannon fodder, the war was won, eventually. 

Fortunately we have much better data and tools to make decisions compared to the 1940’s. The fog of war has lifted somewhat, but human nature hasn’t greatly changed.  It  seems like there is a common theme here- the need to succeed at the expense of the local terrain.  Is it realistic to demand that our leaders achieve greatness in all categories?  Or, do the ends justify the means and methods?