I finished the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson a few months ago. Not only is it one of the few books I actually wished was thousands of pages longer than it actually was (I LOVED it), it offered fascinating insight into Job’s character and management style.
Job’s style was everything they tell you in business school and leadership courses not to be. Impulsive, volatile, eccentric, extreme and driven are just a few of the words that would seem to describe Job’s style. He was, by most accounts, almost impossible to work with. He was deeply immature at times, even abusive.
In so many ways, he’s like a study in how not to manage and lead than anything.
Except that it worked. Except that he was also brilliant and exceptionally successful.
Had I worked with Jobs, my advice would likely have been for him to take the edges off his personality. Many tried that and failed.
But here’s the key question: were his eccentricities a good thing in the end? Was it in fact the edges of his personality that made Jobs the leader that he was and made Apple the company it became?
Please don’t get me wrong…I don’t think reading an account of Steve Job’s life is any justification to show up Monday morning to berate your staff and or create a 90 hour a week work culture (both of which were characteristic of Apple). Nor is it a licence to unleash the lesser elements of your character on the people closest to you.
Jobs was anything but a balanced leader. He was extreme in his personality. And as I reflect on the great leaders I know and admire, I respect, I realize that only a few of them are actually what we call ‘balanced’ people. Their personalities have edges. Edges that impact the people around them. They can be impulsive. They can work too much (or selectively). They stand out because they are different – often quite different – than most other people. It’s what makes them who they are.
Which leads me to a bigger question: Does greatness ever really involve balance?
Few great leaders we study were balanced. From Lincoln, to John A. MacDonald, to Churchill to Kennedy to Edison to Billy Graham, few leaders lead a very balanced life. Neither did Jesus. He was so extreme in his ethic and life that he alienated many who tried to follow him. Paul was hardly everybody’s best friend in the early church. Moses didn’t exactly clock out at four every day and settle down to watch TV with his family every Tuesday. I can’t think of a single biblical character who lives a balanced life. In fact, most of them are strange enough that we might keep our distance.
So why think about this at all? Here’s why: just about everyone around you is going to try to take the edges off of your personality. And for sure, you should stop sinning. You should never use a life story like Steve Jobs’ to justify outrageous behaviour. You should listen to counsel and even cherish rebukes. But maybe you shouldn’t let it kill who you are. Do you always have to ‘work on your weaknesses’ like every management review suggests you need to?
If you polished all the strange edges off your personality, do you kill what God created? Maybe the things that drive you and some of the very people around you nuts are the things that God will use to help accomplish his purposes.
What do you think? Does greatness arise from balance? Or sometimes does it also legitimately arise from the edges of our personality that sometimes we wish weren’t there?