Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor has sparked a bit of a controversy on his Harvard Business Review blog by suggesting the heretical idea that — shock! — Steve Jobs might not be the best role model for other business leaders.
Apparently, it’s deeply offensive to suggest that what makes Steve great are the exact qualities that typically make for bad management at most companies. He micro-manages every aspect of Apple, has been known to fire people with minimal cause, and perennially runs the risk of out-shining his company — which is particularly problematic when his health problems continue to cast into doubt his long-term prospects as CEO.
What Taylor is pointing out should be self-evident: Steve is a once-in-a-generation genius, and the reason he can break all of the rules is because he’s an extraordinary individual. If you want to compete with him and be great yourself, the worst possible thing you can do is try to act like him. Think about it: the most embarrassing moments other CEOs have is when they attempt to force the charisma, charm, and chutzpah Steve brings to bear in his keynotes. Whenever Bill Gates tries to act cool, you can practically smell the flop-sweat on him.
The most important question is not, “How do we become more like Steve Jobs?” The best question is, “How do we become the best version of our own company?” That might mean the kind of leadership Taylor espouses in the rest of his column, or it might mean something else. It definitely doesn’t mean replacing your wardrobe with black turtlenecks, blue jeans, and New Balance sneakers. Even when Apple eventually has to replace Steve as CEO, whether in five or, with the assistance of cybernetics, 50 years, the best thing the board of directors could do is look for someone who is nothing like Steve. You’ll never top him in a million years if you play his game, but you might do something awesome on your own terms if you figure out what makes you great.
Note to Silicon Alley Insider: Bill Taylor’s giving Steve wannabes an F — not Steve himself. There’s plenty to admire about him, little to imitate.