The intersection of ‘a good leader’ and ‘what I’d like to see in a leader’

Is a good leader the same as what matters most to you in a leader?

These two questions crossed my mind as I was reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers.

In a fit of insomnia, I read 100 pages of the 571-page tome in the middle of the night last night just after I found an article in November’s Real Simple magazine about “What Matters to You Most in a Leader?”

Real Simple was posing the question in light of Election Day, but it’s relevant in light of Obama’s inauguration, too.

Answers from Real Simple readers included:

  • “An open mind and a tolerant attitude.”
  • “Humility.”
  • “Kindness and sympathy.”
  • “The ability to help people with opposing viewpoints find common ground.”

Meanwhile, Isaacson uses words like “bratty,” “arrogant,” “demanding” and “harsh” to describe the perfectionist behind such products as the Macintosh personal computer and iEverything.

Which leads me to wonder, “Is what we want in a leader what we really need?”

After reading just the beginning of Jobs’ biography, I know I’d never have made it at Apple Computers. I would have hated working for such a jerk. Yet I admire the work of that jerk.

I wonder if, like a spoiled 5-year-old who gets everything she wants and then throws tantrums anyway, we’re getting exactly what we ask for in our politicians and business leaders?

7 responses to “The intersection of ‘a good leader’ and ‘what I’d like to see in a leader’

  1. Great post, Monica! “We” are all different!! “We” don’t even think the same thing 2 days in a row! “We” are all selfish, and want what we want when we want it! “We” don’t all agree on what we need…welcome to the American melting pot! When we find someone who can melt all our differences into something beautiful…Ahhh, then we’ll all be happy! Ha!!

  2. Reblogged this on ntfastlane's Blog and commented:
    A real leader is a perfectionist, demanding excellence and steadfastness. However, a good leader must also set an example and provide for his or her people and always work harder than his or her people. I really do like the posted description because I think there is a significant difference between the public’s desired traits for a leader and what traits actually make up a true leader

  3. Really thought provoking article, thank you. And has made me look at a couple of people differently already.

  4. Coming from an arts background I may have a weird perspective on this, since I’ve worked with people as driven as Jobs. I can be as driven as Jobs, and would likely follow his leadership model more than others. I would never look for the traits you listed above in bullets.

    I have always said I’d rather work with/for a complete asshole who excelled than a nice guy who was incompetent. I revere excellence and generally think “niceness” has little place in the arts or work world. Politeness, as they say, may grease the rails of society, but I don’t absolutely require it.

    I look for vision, strength, education, intelligence and capability in my leaders. Perhaps if more did seek these qualities and cared less about “having a beer with them” (surely the dumbest criteria ever for picking a politician) we might not be in the mess we are.

    [SAY! Did you see that four Twins are going to the WBC?]

    • It’s not too weird of a perspective. While I wouldn’t want to be called a “shithead,” as Jobs is reported to have done to his minions all the time, many of the people who worked for him accomplished great things because he believed they could and demanded it.

      As for the Twins, I see I shall have to resume reading the sports pages again. I ignore them for months when November comes.

  5. True leadership involves listening combined with intelligence and foresight. The greatest leaders have always been able to envision the future, anticipating what lies ahead. At the same time they have had their fingers on the pulse of society. FDR spoke of a freedom from fear, an accurate reflection of the world around him. Kennedy captured the optimism of a post-war generation at the beginning of a liberating decade. In yesterday’s inaugural address, President Obama captured the essence of the age of social media with the silos that divide us beginning to break and a younger generation of tolerance emerging.

    What works in business in leadership may not work in government. Business leaders, particularly entrepreneurs, are driven by an inner demon of self assurance and risk taking. That doesn’t translate well to governance.

    • I think you make an excellent point about there being a difference between business leaders and political leaders. I probably lumped them together too easily. A political leader doesn’t get to work with people who are paid a salary — citizens in a democracy have to volunteer, and it’s unlikely they’d be willing to pull “all-nighters” as Steve Jobs’ teams often did to solve issues of gun control or health care.

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