Steve Jobs: Can Flawed Leaders Lead Great Companies?

“Can leaders with flaws still be effective in leading companies to greatness?” I asked a group of smart professionals this question over on LinkedIn.

I was thinking about how someone like Steve Jobs could be effective in a leadership position in spite of his difficulties with people, and of how important emotional intelligence is in leading companies to greatness. Here are some thoughtful responses:

Joseph Ohler, Jr.

Yes, because there are no “flawless” leaders. Emotional intelligence is only one factor of many when determining an effective leader, e.g., EI without innovation will eventually cause failure as well.

Jobs had just enough emotional intelligence to maintain working relationships with fellow C-level executives and the Board of Directors most of the time, and even after his departure, the folks in charge knew he was innovative enough to risk bringing back as CEO.

Similarly, an effective leader will have enough EI to maintain open communication with colleagues, direct reports, and most Board members to minimize the perception as a loose cannon, but one need not be a cult of personality.

Les DeGroff

Yes, all people have flaws, and in leadership, sometimes the flaw is the asset that enables success (recognized as greatness).

History also has many examples of successful in one environment, phase or period, failure in others. Many entrepreneurs are flawed such that they cannot take a firm beyond some size.

Emotional Intelligence like regular intelligence is made of many parts and interacts with ethics and other aspects. A person with emotional intelligence can still be a manipulative scum ball, or a hard nosed managerial leader.

Bernard Gore

No leader, or indeed any other person, is without flaw. Anyone who seeks a flawless leader will be disappointed, either in their failure to find such a person, or they will find one they think is flawless and then have to face the reality of the flaws later.

A good leader will know this, and know how to deal with his/her own flaws and those of their followers.

Marian Nielsen

Every human being has their flaws. The only difference is that some have more flaws than others and those who know what their flaws are, i.e. are aware of them, try to make up for them. In addition, great leaders often surround themselves with the best so they are made to look greater. Behind every great leader are great people and a support system that they rely on.

Sahar Andrade

Steve Jobs was a good innovator leader who needs to be thought about, but without flaws — absolutely not.

No one is perfect and the GREATEST leader is the one that knows what they are missing or what their flaws are and have their gaps represented in their teams so the whole team efforts will be flawless.

If someone represents themselves to me as a flawless leader, I will run away as fast as I can as for me that will translate to narcissism and lack of reality grip.

Emotional intelligence in a leader might be the one most important characteristic as it means not only how to control your own feelings and work with them but also to get others’ feelings and motivate or inspire them or lead them. Without being connected to a leader people will not follow, at least not completely.

Christine Hueber

1. Of course!
2. Because he inspired with his vision.
3. Results are what make a leader.

Richard Fisher

No leaders are flawless although many believe that they are without flaws. Steve Jobs’ skills, vision and expertise in other areas made up for his poor people skills. If you read his book, many of his senior employees commented that although he was extremely abrasive at the best of times, they knew that they were working for an exceptionally talented person who challenged them and took their work to a greater level than they had done before.

Emotional intelligence is critical in my opinion and without it you cannot establish strong relationships, rapport and solidarity with your colleagues and clients. Unless, of course, you are Steve Jobs!!

Denise Dougherty:

Is Steve Jobs any different from Mary Average’s manager or any of the individuals you counsel? With the exception of his being a media star, probably not.

Judy Hojel:

As others have commented, every human being has flaws – it’s your awareness of them that matters. When one owns the company, my observation is that less emotional intelligence is required of them than of leaders who are simply employed by the company. Of course we all prefer to work with someone who has high EI, but I know many people who would have quite a low score but it hasn’t stopped their professional success.

I am curious about EI and it ties in with leadership. Most studies tell you that the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more important interpersonal skills become for leading effectively (Goleman, Boyatsis and McKee, Primal Leadership).

For those of you a little rusty on the elements of this concept, emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is a measure of one’s

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

If it’s so important in an effective leader, then how do some leaders fall short and still lead their companies to greatness? What do you know about EI? It is something you find that is useful to you? Is it necessary for a leader to be emotionally intelligent?

I’d love to hear from you.

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