*This article was originally published in the Competency Issue of Talent Quarterly earlier this month. Visit their website to purchase the full issue as well as all previous issues.
IN THIS SPECIAL ESSAY, Jorge E. Fernandez, a consultant with the Hogan Coaching Network, examines mercurial Apple founder Steve Jobs using the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), which describes the dark side of personality—qualities that emerge in times of increased strain that can disrupt relationships, damage reputations, and hinder peoples’ chances of success.
By assessing dark-side personality, you can recognize and mitigate performance risks before they become a problem. Here, Fernandez tracks the major steps of Jobs’s storied career, from Apple’s humble beginnings to the company’s unprecedented comeback two decades later, and all the sabotaging and backstabbing in between.
Introduced in 1997, the HDS is the only personality assessment that identifies critical blind spots that lead to career derailment. How might Jobs’s career have progressed if the inventory existed in the 1970s? Here’s what Jobs’s trajectory—and the HDS—can teach you when it comes to developing the next great leaders.
I’m probably the first person ever to compare Steve Jobs to Billy Joel, so here goes nothing: In his 1989 hit “I Go to Extremes,” the Rock and Roll Hall-of- Famer succinctly captured the unpredictable quality of the artistic temperament when he sang, “I don’t know why I go to extremes / Too high or too low, there ain’t no in-betweens.” Much like the protagonist in Joel’s song, the Apple cofounder’s professional life stands out for its sharp ups and downs, with few in- betweens. (Nailed it.)
Jobs once said that he liked “living at the edge of the humanities and technology.” Indeed, he found the navigation of that intersection highly stimulating and very fruitful, but it was also far from straight. There were jagged edges to Jobs’s personality that, yes, drove him to extremes. He experienced uncommon success and failure. This begs the question: What propelled the rises and precipitated the falls?
Robert Hogan’s socioanalytic theory postulates that we all strive to get ahead, get along, and find meaning. Therefore, what we all have in common is the need to compete, the need to cooperate, and the need to make sense of our lives. Where we differ is how we go about meeting these needs inside and outside of work.
In organizations, it can be hard to find meaningful work and harder still to reconcile the tension between winning and relating. How we deal with competing tensions impacts our job performance.
Toward that end, Robert and Joyce Hogan designed the Hogan Development Survey (HDS) to measure working adults’ characteristic behavior under unusual circumstances, like when facing heavy workloads, tight deadlines, shifting priorities, new competitors, and changing technology.
The assessment aims to predict how others see us when we’re on our worst behavior. Our counterproductive conduct is often triggered by anxiety, apathy, boredom, or fatigue. More importantly, we all develop particular strategies for coping with difficult situations with varying degrees of success.
Here are the 11 personality-based risk factors measured by the HDS:
- Excitable: behaviors ranging from enthusiasm to explosiveness
- Skeptical: behaviors ranging from perceptiveness to suspiciousness
- Cautious: behaviors ranging from prudence to passivity
- Reserved: behaviors ranging from calm to noncommunicative
- Leisurely: behaviors ranging from agreeableness to stubbornness
- Bold: behaviors ranging from con – dent to arrogant
- Mischievous: behaviors ranging from adventuress to reckless
- Colorful: behaviors ranging from motivating to distracting
- Imaginative: behaviors ranging from creative to confusing
- Diligent: behaviors ranging from conscientiousness to meticulousness
- Dutiful: behaviors ranging from ac- commodation to vacillation
The construction of Steve Jobs’s HDS profile is reverse-engineered from non-fictional accounts of his life story. Jobs was unpredictable, erratic, and an emotional roller coaster, which points to a high risk score in excitable. What those who worked closely with Jobs would have noticed most was his emotional explosiveness. Ironically, this same quality also made possible the contagious passion he had for his work. He often acted in an unforgiving, uncompromising manner.
Above all else, Jobs had to feel in complete control. This means a high risk score in skeptical. Collaborators had to live with Jobs’s suspiciousness and argumentativeness, but it also enabled keen perceptiveness and perseverance. Temerity and incivility were distinct characteristics of Jobs’s behavior; therefore, cautious was a low risk factor. Jobs was clearly an abrasive loner, which means high risk on reserved. But his reserved nature also enabled great powers of concentration and task orientation.
Jobs didn’t suffer from conflict aversion, which indicates low risk of leisurely behavior. An enfant terrible, Jobs is a high risk on bold, but his boldness also brings forth unusual confidence and initiative. He was as original as he was impractical (high risk on imaginative), extremely meticulous (high risk on diligent), and positively unaccommodating and defiant of authority (far from dutiful). In sum, he was an intensely driven man with a paradoxical nature and distinctly Jekyll and Hyde qualities.
When you go to extremes—there’s Joel again—you almost become a caricature of yourself. All nuances are lost. And, quite ironically, your unique excellence becomes your fatal aw. The Greeks had a name for this kind of metamorphosis: areté hamartia. To avoid your genius from becoming your demon, finding a niche is crucial. As educational psychologist Lee Cronback once put it, “If for each environment there is a best organism, for each organism there is a best environment.”
In other words, you should aim to find a place where your personality can prosper. Jobs’s genius and demon sent him on a whirlwind career tour.
The Atari Beginnings: Bold and Mischievous
Jobs was among the first group of employees at Atari. Hired as a technician, he struck chief engineer Al Alcorn as very bright and enthusiastic about technology. He quickly managed to improve the video games … and rub many of his coworkers the wrong way. (It wouldn’t be the last time.) To keep the peace, Jobs was assigned to work at night and later as an independent consultant. Incidentally, on one of those consulting jobs he joined forces with his close friend and future Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.
During the collaboration, Jobs artificially imposed a deadline for project delivery to suit his own purposes and neglected to tell Wozniak that there was a bonus involved for designing the game with a minimum of chips. (Wozniak met both criteria, but never saw the bonus.)
In a brief period, Jobs demonstrated his inability or unwillingness to get along with others as well as his facility for manipulation and deviousness. His obnoxious and offensive behavior would have gotten him fired at Atari and probably many other outfits, but company founder Nolan Bushnell saw Jobs’s entrepreneurial potential and found ways to work around his abusive behavior.
The Early Apple Days: Skeptical and Diligent
From 1976 to ’78, Jobs and Wozniak collaborated successfully on the Apple I and II, with Wozniak bringing his technical gifts as an engineer to the mix and Jobs contributing his design savvy. In addition to the two Steves, two Mikes also played important roles at Apple: Mike Markkula, the first major Apple investor and chairman, and Mike Scott, Apple’s president. Markkula was allergic to conflict and needed Scott to manage Jobs, but Jobs had to be in total control of his destiny and thus was allergic to authority. It was a recipe for disaster.
Naturally, Jobs clashed with Scott over everything from product quality to, yes, employee badge numbers. Scott assigned #1 to Wozniak and #2 to Jobs, who demanded to be #1. Scott’s solution? Give Jobs badge #0. The more substantive, but no less dramatic, confrontations were product-centered: Scott felt perfectionism shouldn’t push out pragmatism. Jobs’s relentless aesthetic perfectionism pulled him in the opposite direction.
The First Brush with Failure: Excitable and Diligent
By 1980, Jobs was looking to fashion his own machine. As it so happened, John Couch, a former Hewlett-Packard engineer, was running the “Lisa” project for Apple. Originally aimed at the corporate market to fill a void left by the failed Xerox Star, Jobs envisioned the Lisa as the equivalent of a Volkswagen: an inexpensive and user-friendly product for the masses. Guess what happened next?
Couch and his team of engineers deeply resented Jobs’s incessant meddling and barrage of insults, Markkula and Scott orchestrated a restructuring in response to Jobs’s maddening behavior, and Jobs was given the title of “non-executive chairman of the board,” a public relations role without any operational responsibilities.
The Birth of the Macintosh: Excitable and Mischievous
Jobs originally hired Jef Raskin to write the manual for the Apple II. Raskin would later become the manager of Apple’s publications department, but what he really wanted to do was build a cheap computer for the general public. So he convinced Markkula to put him in charge of a small development project: the Macintosh.
Meanwhile, Jobs was actively looking for vindication after being booted from the Lisa project, so he set his sights on the Macintosh. Jobs was fascinated by Raskin’s vision of a truly personal computer for the everyman, but Raskin was cost-conscious and didn’t believe passion for the product should be the primary focus. Once again, these incompatible values led to disruptive battles.
Things got so difficult, in fact, that Raskin wrote a memo to Scott titled “Working for/with Steve Jobs.” Raskin asserted that he liked Jobs, but found him an impossible collaborator. “He’s extraordinarily seductive,” Raskin wrote. “He would have made an excellent king of France.”
More truth bombs: “He is a dreadful manager … Jobs regularly misses appointments … He does not give credit where due … He is often irresponsible and inconsiderate … He does not keep promises.”
The power struggle between Raskin and Jobs forced Scott and Markkula to intervene once again—but in a twist, this time they sided with Jobs. (Raskin ended up working for Canon, where he built the unsuccessful Canon Cat.)
With Raskin gone, Jobs would take full command of the Macintosh division. A renegade artist at heart, he regularly used maxims like “Don’t compromise” and “It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy” to motivate the Mac team. Jobs believed in feeding everyone’s competitive fire by finding a foe to wage a war against, like IBM, Xerox, and even the Lisa division. He often crossed the line between inspiration and intimidation. As Bud Tribble, a software designer and colleague of Herzfeld on the Mac project, said, “In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he is not around, but it makes it really hard to have realistic schedules.”
As a result, the Mac was completed woefully behind schedule and well over budget. In fact, the Lisa was already one year ahead of the Mac, causing Jobs to lose a $5,000 bet to the Lisa’s project leader. He was such a bad loser, however, that on the occasion of the Lisa’s launch, he deliberately and publicly stated that the Mac and the Lisa would be incompatible. Machiavelli would have been proud.
In 1983, Jobs hooked in John Sculley, a marketing executive from Pepsi, with a simple challenge: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” When Sculley became Apple’s CEO that year, he merged the Lisa and Macintosh divisions with Jobs in command. Jobs immediately declared many of the Lisa team members failures before cutting their jobs.
To be fair, the Lisa was a great machine—it was just overpriced, incompatible with the Apple II and IBM computers, and incapable of finding a market. Not that the Macintosh was an instant success: Though the technology was dazzling, the computer was slow and susceptible to overheating, and didn’t sell especially well upon release.
When Jobs went into blame-storming mode, Sculley was tasked with managing his mood swings. In response, Jobs turned against his CEO, going so far as to plot a boardroom coup. The failed plot led to Sculley stripping Jobs of his duties—again—and banishing him to a ceremonial role in an empty building that Jobs subsequently dubbed “Siberia.”
A Labor of Revenge: Skeptical and Mischievous
In 1985, Jobs left Apple and started NeXT Inc., where he hoped to create a computer for the higher-education market alongside a group of key former Apple employees. At Apple, Jobs was a division leader, but now he was in charge of the whole company. Without any checks on his power, he ran amok, paying $100,000 to a design guru to create the NeXT logo and completely rebuilding the company’s brand-new headquarters (twice), among other questionable decisions. In Jobs’s eyes, all things at NeXT had to be elegant and cutting-edge; the inordinate value he placed on aesthetics left little or no room for practicalities.
His punishing management style, meanwhile, remained intact. According to NeXT employees, he was still unable to keep his opinions to himself, and he continued to put people down to show he was superior. His extraordinary attention to the smallest details tormented his employees and predictably led to delays in completion and cost overruns. He eventually had to turn to outside investors to keep the company afloat.
In the final analysis, NeXT was a technical and artistic triumph, but a financial disaster. One of those triumphs? The NeXTSTEP software, which turned out to be Jobs’s ticket back to Apple.
The Hobby: Imaginative and Bold
Executives at NeXT condescendingly referred to Jobs’s other entrepreneurial venture, Pixar, as “the hobby.” Before it became a massively successful animation studio, Pixar was a tightly knit group run by two highly capable computer scientists with an interest in art: Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith. When Jobs purchased the outfit in 1986—he was enamored with computer graphics— both men made it a point to keep the new owner and banker at a distance.
To drive revenue, Jobs wanted to sell Pixar’s computers to the mass market. When he opened sales offices in several major cities to no avail, he turned his attention to Pixar’s software, RenderMan, aiming to simplify it for the everyman. The Pixar team tried to dissuade him, indicating the product was too sophisticated.
They were right: RenderMan was indeed too expensive and difficult, so it never took flight.
Smith saw Jobs as a master manipulator and frequently clashed with him over various decisions. After resigning from Pixar, Smith went on to start a company called Altamira, which was later acquired by Microsoft.
Despite all of Jobs’s bold plans, Pixar, like NeXT, continued to bleed money. The financial picture was so bleak that Jobs nearly sold the company to Microsoft, but had a change of heart when he saw the first completed scene of Toy Story in 1994, a year before its release. It was a wise decision.
A Return and Labor of Love: Mischievous and Colorful
In 1996, Apple CEO Gil Amelio knew the Mac operating system needed a major overhaul. So he took a big, prohibitively expensive step to acquire NeXT for its powerful software, absorbing Jobs in an advisory role as part of the deal. The move unwittingly resulted in Amelio’s demise: Jobs secretly sold the Apple stock that he had acquired with the sale ofNeXT,breaking the promise he made to Amelio to hold off for a minimum of 6 months. When Apple’s stock predictably plummeted to the point where the company was facing bankruptcy, Amelio was fired in the summer of 1997. In swooped Jobs to save the day as an advisor, a dozen years after being exiled.
Before Jobs reclaimed his CEO title, however, he wanted to gauge whether Apple could even be saved. His assessment led him to conclude the company had too much inventory, too much middle management, too many factories, and ineffective marketing. So he dismissed the board that had presided over the company’s deterioration, brought inventory down to just four products, sold a number of factories, laid off thousands of middle managers, and secured a $150 million investment from Microsoft to remedy the cash crisis.
Jobs’s swiftness and laser-sharp focus were instrumental in saving Apple. His actions led to profits just one year after assuming command. For him, it was all about getting back to the basics of great products, great marketing, and great distribution.
Character, Context, and Competence
Jobs’s professional life illustrates that competence is a byproduct of a mixture of character and context. You can argue he was most successful when his back was against the wall: once when Apple was still a tiny startup fighting for survival, and again when he played the part of the cash-strapped underdog striving valiantly to infuse a moribund company with his ferocious entrepreneurial spirit.
Two executives in particular complimented Jobs beautifully during Apple’s renaissance: Jonathan Ive and Tim Cook. Ive, who was Apple’s head of industrial design, predated Jobs’ second coming. He is as nice as Jobs was mean, and his approach to design is as analytical as Jobs’swas intuitive, but both men were highly visual and fervently believed that complexity must be understood and simplified. Their collaboration led to an extraordinary array of elegant solutions.
While Jobs made it a point to call Apple’s products revolutionary, the company actually didn’t invent the computer, portable music player, smartphone, or specialty retail store. Instead, its products were evolutionary; all were great refinements of cruder versions that others had rushed to market.
In 1998, looking for someone to build a system like Dell’s, Jobs met Tim Cook. The ex-IBM industrial engineer knew a great deal about manufacturing and sup- ply chains, and his role became implementing Jobs’s intuition, which he did with admirable efficiency and frugality. Cook is as poised as Jobs was petulant, and as low-profile as Jobs was visible. More importantly, he freed Jobs of all operational duties and allowed him to concentrate on more creative, strategic aspects of the business.
In Ive and Cook, Jobs had lieutenants who acted as faithful disciples and successfully edited the extraneous. Remember: Jobs was notoriously impulsive and intuitive. Despite his outward audacity, he was always worried about things going wrong. He was a person constantly reaching for the stars, needing others to keep his feet on the ground. His supporting cast tried to keep him as centered as possible.
But when Jobs wasn’t in startup or turnaround mode, he tended to act imprudently. In the midst of Apple’s transformation, he indulged in irregular financial practices that in 2007 occasioned a full SEC investigation concerning backdated stock options.
The SEC absolved Steve Jobs but formally charged Fred Anderson, Apple’s former chief financial officer, and Nancy Heinen, the company’s former general counsel. Anderson and Heinen settled the charges against them without declaring any wrongdoing, but clearly felt scapegoated.
Joe Nocera, who covered the mess for the New York Times, wrote, “Rarely have so many avoidable problems been created by one man’s obsession with his own image. Then again, this is Steve Jobs we are talking about.” It was another episode where Jobs’s contempt for authority and immovable will created an environment conducive to solid professionals acting against their better judgment, and could have very easily—and deservedly—derailed him as well.
At NeXT, Jobs found himself in full command and with ample resources, which led to frequent overindulgences. And instead of conjuring up ideas for electronic products for the mainstream consumer, he was largely constricted to an educational market that was very conservative and with limited resources.
At Pixar, Jobs was an owner and financier. He had no hand in developing the hardware or software and was a stranger to the movie industry. Without the ability to see himself as the prototypical customer, his instincts betrayed him, and Pixar’s anti-autocratic work culture mostly deflected Jobs’ dictatorial ways. Still, his eye for computer graphics helped him spot a good thing when he saw it—Toy Story—and he ultimately brought his cold, calculating instincts to the negotiating table to orchestrate Pixar’s eventual sale to Disney.
By the time he returned to Apple, Jobs understood the importance of surrounding himself with people who weren’t afraid to say no. Cook recalled: “I realized really early that if you didn’t voice your opinion, [Jobs] would mow you down. He takes contrary positions to create more discussion because it may lead to a better result. So if you don’t feel comfortable disagreeing, then you’ll never survive.”
At Apple, you had to be able to take a stand, endure sharp attacks, and always remember who was king. Cook, who succeeded Jobs as Apple’s CEO after
his death in 2011, accepted that. “Some people resent that Steve gets credit for everything,” Cook said, “but I’ve never given a rat’s ass about that.” No wonder Adam Lashinsky, author of Inside Apple, claims it takes an egoless fanatic to prosper at the company.
Jobs was a renegade artist who saw the world as a hierarchy, with him on top and everyone else below. He viewed people as either useful or useless to him. His shocking lack of concern for relationships seriously hampered his ability to get along with people of all ranks, especially those in authority.
ROBERT HOGAN HAS SAID THAT THE best leaders “get along to get ahead.” The Level 5 leader (resolved and humble) that Jim Collins discovered while studying corporate transformations supports Dr. Hogan’s point. Jobs certainly knew how to get ahead; in fact, he was virtually unstoppable—to his detriment. And when he didn’t have any constraints, he would overdo everyt
hing and fizzle out (NeXT) or promote an irrelevant vision (Pixar). It wasn’t until he came back to Apple that he regained his stride in full.
The most salient thing about Jobs’s dark-side profile is how clear and well defined it is. To bring it all back to Billy Joel, there are only high scores and low scores, with nothing in between. What leaps out is an intensely driven man with minimal self control. Jobs was fiercely independent, defiant, and prone to abrasive and abusive behavior if anyone dared to get in his way.
He built an organization in his own image. Apple was a company of paradoxes; it was Bohemian and Puritanical, and Jobs was, too. It was innovative, efficient, strategic, and tactical, just like him. The heaven of technology and the humanities could only be paved through Jobsian hell.