The Best Defense

Steve Jobs: A great and toxic leader

We hear a lot about toxic leaders these days, and especially how bad they are for military units, so I was surprised when I picked up Water Isasacson's terrific biography of Steve Jobs of Apple/Pixar fame to see that Jobs was a classic toxic leader -- bullying, self-indulgent, lacking empathy, often ungrateful, unwilling to give credit where it was due, and a world-class control freak. (I hadn't planned to read the book, but my wife, who cares about computers maybe even less than I do but cares a lot about history, recommended it highly as a story of our times.)

Job's awful behavior was not just a matter of corporate antics. He was downright weird, not believing in showering much and wafting such bad body odor early that in his career he was told to work nights. An abandoned child himself, he neglected for many years a child he fathered and wasn't particularly good with his subsequent offspring. One former girlfriend called him an enlightened person, but unusually, also a cruel one.   

Here's the problem: There is no question that Steve Jobs was a self-centered jerk. Yet he also appears to have been a great corporate leader and innovator who pulled off a series of successes -- the Apple II and MacIntosh computers, the Pixar movie animation studio, the iPod, the iPad, and the iPhone. These have had an impact on the way we live. In the process, Jobs built one of the world's most valuable companies. 

So what are we to think? Issacson doesn't really tell us. I wouldn't want to have worked for the guy. Yet it made me stop to think: In retrospect, the two roughest bosses I had in my decades in journalism also were the best for my career, holding me to high standards, rewarding my efforts, and promoting me quickly.   


The Best Defense

Romney's statements make a Foreign Service Officer feel 'physically ill'

A Foreign Service Officer writes to me about Romney:

Thank you for your posting (and links) on Governor Romney's response to the death of Ambassador Stevens. I did not know him, but I am surrounded here at State by people who did, and I can tell you that this is a building filled with shock and grief.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton each made statements that were appropriate, both to the public and to the Foreign Service. And it was important to us that our president came to the department to be with us yesterday and to offer comfort. Tomorrow afternoon, see how many people go to Andrews to welcome Ambassador Stevens home.

I felt physically ill when I first heard Governor Romney's remarks, and incredulous that he repeated them later. It appeared to me that the death of Foreign Service Officers was to him nothing more than an opportunity to score cheap political points. And this man wants to be our leader?