Do you need to be a jerk to be a great leader?
This is an important question of modern work.
Steve Jobs was an unbelievable jerk. He made a ton of people rich, disrupted multiple industries, and built the No. 1 company in the world. (Although that’s shifting.) Jeff Bezos, who ostensibly changed commerce, is purportedly a jerk. Amazon’s work culture is notoriously pretty awful. Wal-Mart has long been near the top of the Fortune 500; most people that have come to run it are authoritarian jerks in their own right. It’s nearly impossible to read anything about Travis Kalanick (Uber founder, former CEO) and not view him as a jerk. His Vanity Fair profile from a few years ago is one of the worst things you’ll ever cringe through.
But still, these are big, important, revenue-driving men. They are leaders of big, apex companies. They make money for themselves and others; they are viewed as successful. They disrupt industries.
Is that the path, then?
Like anything, there are multiple options. The approach of these guys (and others) is A path, but it’s not THE path. Over my career coaching and consulting, I’ve also had the pleasure of working with a lot of people — both genders — who are truly people-centric leaders. They focus on developing talent as much as they worry about margins; they focus on empathy, compassion, flexibility, and support as much as they huddle up and discuss CAGR and ROI.
It can be done. It’s maybe not what we hear about in business journalism and books as much — we tend to discuss the hard-driving, revenue-first leader — but both kinds exist, and oftentimes they’re in the same body.
It is possible to be a great leader and drive results without being a jerk, yes.