Steve Jobs and Me

 By William Seidman I have a minor claim to fame: Steve Jobs interviewed me in 1989 for a job as Director of Customer Support for NeXT Computer. It doesn’t get mentioned much, but NeXT Computer was the company Jobs founded after he was squeezed out of Apple by John Sculley. NeXT didn’t have a great product (not all Jobs’s products were successes – remember the Lisa computer?) but it did buy Pixar, which went on to become incredibly successful and was the engine that brought Jobs back as an important player. In the interview with Steve, he was doing his “insanely great” pitch for the NeXT workstation, which was significantly behind the workstation market. When he turned to me and asked, “Isn’t this great?” I answered with a tepid “Yes,” and the tepid part sank me. I went on to do seven group interviews with more than 90 people, most of whom described NeXT as “Steve’s company” and “Steve’s product.” I later learned that they did a group debriefing and everyone I interviewed with except one – Jobs– wanted to offer me the position.  I didn’t get the job. I know exactly when and why I didn’t get it, and this is relevant to a discussion of leadership. In spite of images of, and lip service to, an open environment, NeXT Computer was run by a very authoritarian leader. In circles of people who think about transformational leadership, there is always a problem when describing Jobs. While he certainly transformed the world, which would make him a transformational leader, he did it in an authoritarian way, which does not meet the typical criteria for being a transformational leader. Can someone be a transformational leader if they don’t empower people, even if they do actually transform the world? I don’t have an answer, but would love to hear comments.]]>

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