Is it okay to be a jerk if you achieve great things?

Jan 1, 2012 by

Since the passing of Steve Jobs the world has been reading a lot about how he was a total jerk. By all accounts he wasn’t just like this at Apple but also acted like an asshole in his personal life too, berating nurses, doctors, waitresses and anyone else who was unfortunate enough to raise his ire. By refusing to put a license plate on his car and routinely parking in handicapped spaces he demonstrated how he thought rules didn’t apply to him.

In praise and defence of Jobs’ behavior are those who have said that we need more jerks in business and those who aspire to be more of a jerk like Jobs was. On the other side are those who point out that in studying Jobs, the worst business lesson one could learn from is the way in which he interacted with others. While he might have been effective as a leader he was a terrible manager and not a model to emulate. Finally there are those who have called Jobs plainly a bully and a cry-baby and a monster who should only be remembered as a jerk.

Of course Jobs was not the only jerk in the workplace. Today there are many other leaders who act like Steve Jobs in business, sports, arts and other domains. Each instance of tolerance for their behavior is an example of entertaining an ego.

Was Jobs’ behavior justified given that he achieved such great success and inspired others to achieve great success? Those on the outside who have benefited from using Apple’s great products and those who interacted with Jobs and came away without permanent scarring might be willing to overlook Jobs’ transgressions. However those who came away from their interactions with Jobs with a bitter taste in their mouth and recurring nightmares may be far less forgiving.

Let’s be clear: Jobs was verbally and emotionally abusive.

Research suggests that the behavior of abusive bosses like Jobs is often overlooked when they are successful. Other research shows that bullying in the workplace may more prevalent than we think.

It’s entirely possible to inspire others to do their best and to hold people to extremely high standards without being a jerk. You can say something is shit without saying those exact words and without belittling someone let alone doing it in front of others. I have been a jerk at times and I have worked for jerks and with jerks and I have seen how some people subjected to the abuse of jerks remain detrimentally affected years later. I have also been verbally abusive in a domestic relationship even though I did not know it at the time and it was not my intent to hurt my partner yet I did. In domestic abuse people are advised that emotional and verbal abuse can be at least as bad if not worse than physical abuse. While injuries from physical abuse may heal and leave no permanent scars, bludgeoning of the psyche can take a take a lot longer to remedy and may even leave people scarred for life.

Many others have achieved great things in their lives and inspired others and they were able to do it without being jerks. There’s simply no excuse for being a jerk.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not reflect those of the author’s employers and/or clients or any of their respective clients. Your use of this content is governed by this site’s Terms of Use.

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1 Comment

  1. Abhishek Patti

    I agree with your post that it is not necessary that one should be a jerk or behave like one to be successful, but it is sheer ignorance of people that they fail to see/ understand how jerk was a person when he/she becomes successful(which I think is basic human nature). But I feel people should see both good and bad things in a successful person.

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