The Leaderboard

Most Read: National

From the Blogosphere

Jena McGregor

Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Post Leadership
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 02/10/2012

The Steve Jobs FBI file: The one new thing we learned about the Apple CEO’s leadership

The FBI file on Steve Jobs was released Thursday, and it provided insight into one aspect of the Apple CEO’s leadership we didn’t already know.
The FBI file created on Steve Jobs when he was being considered for a government post, released Thursday, does not tell us that much we don’t already know. He experimented with drugs as a young man and had a child with a former girlfriend whom he refused to support (they later reconciled)—all topics that have been covered in past biographies of Jobs. He was not always honest with his employees, he created bitterness among those who worked for him, and he was capable of distorting “reality in order to achieve his goals.” Anyone familiar with Walter Isaacson’s recent best-selling Jobs biography knows this, too.

But what we did learn from the file is that none of those faults kept people from recommending him for the job. What’s astonishing in the report is that each of the more than 35 people who were interviewed by the FBI—even those who “characterized Mr. Jobs as a deceptive individual” or “described his personal life as being lacking due to his narcissism or shallowness”—said they would recommend him for a government position that requires trust and confidence. 

That’s either a telling statement about what people think of government appointees (even way back in 1991, when the file was compiled) or remarkable commentary about the duality of Jobs’ personality and the power it held over the people who knew him. The same person who called Jobs shallow and narcissistic said he had “far-reaching vision.” The very individual who said Jobs had a questionable moral character and feels bitter toward him admitted he is an honest and trustworthy person. And the person who said Jobs was deceptive and not completely forthright admitted he “possesses the qualities to assume a high-level political position.”

The document is a reminder that people can see the flaws—often glaring ones—of the people who lead them, but are willing to look past them, especially when qualities such as vision, charisma and drive are in place. These rally people behind the promise of a cause, or an idea, or even simply an innovative product in a way that makes them forgive, if not forget, the less attractive aspects of a leader’s personality. This, after all, is the very reason why candidates with black marks in their personal lives aren’t immediately written off by those inspired by their ideas.

That more than 35 people would recommend Steve Jobs for a presidential appointment, despite misgivings by a number of them, says a lot about his vision and ability to inspire. Such critical commentary about major company CEOs is rarely seen in such stark printed terms, much less paired with simultaneous recommendations for presidential appointments. The FBI file on Jobs speaks to the unique dual nature of Jobs’ leadership and personality, and what prompts us all to follow those with faults.

More from On Leadership:

Komen’s latest apology goes halfway

Mark Zuckerberg’s new challenge with Facebook users

JFK intern memoir recasts one of history’s most iconic leaders

Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

@post_lead | @jenamcgregor | @lily_cunningham

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 02/10/2012

Tags:  Apple, Steve Jobs, technology, FBI

Read what others are saying

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company