An Inquiry Into Intimacy


Intimacy is being seen and known as the person you truly are.
                                                         Amy Bloom
In my February blog entitle “On Being Fully Human,” I wrote about three leaders, each of whom allowed inhumanity to slip into the “edges” of their lives.
When I penned those words, I had not yet read Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I have now, and it’s clear he did more than allow inhumanity to slip into the edges of his life. The brash, rude manner in which he treated people was deeply ingrained into nearly everything he did from a very young age. Often, the nicest thing he would say about another’s creative idea was “Well, it’s a start.” More likely he would call them stupid, crap…or worse. He was famous for rejecting another’s idea, only to return weeks later claiming it as his own. In his view, most people were “A players” or “bozos”. There was little space betwixt his neural synapses for other categories of humanity.
As I read Isaacson’s rendition of the life of Jobs, I attended a lunch sponsored by Aurora University with brief remarks by Kent Keith, CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. The Greenleaf Center is based on management philosophies espoused by Robert K. Greenleaf during the latter half of the 20th Century. The leader as servant is similar to the Level-5 leader described in the best-selling book Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. The Servant/Level 5 leader is one who leads with humility. They show care and concern for those who must do the organization’s bidding. Using traditional definitions, these leaders have more intimacy with their employees. Greenleaf, Collins and Porras all proposed that the leader who is first-and-foremost servant, is best prepared to create an enduring organization. A leader at the other end of the spectrum might create short-term success, but the chances of an enduring legacy are remote.
Enter Steve Jobs. As you read the Isaacson account, intimacy is perhaps the last word you would use to describe his relationships. Had Collins, Porras or Greenleaf been handed a nameless profile of Jobs and his management style, they likely would have concluded he had no chance of doing precisely what he did: create two—Apple and Pixar—of the most admired brands on the planet and a company that, even after his death, retains one of the highest market values of any corporation ever conceived. It would be difficult to call his 40 years of revolutionizing computers, movies, music, cell phones and more, short-term success. Many who worked with him, in spite of the way he treated them, speak of him affectionately, even reverently.
Few books leave me in tears as I read the final words. This one did and I have wondered why. Perhaps there is an unexpected clue in the words of Amy Bloom where I began this entry. I hope, before I die, I will have looked deeply, discovered who I truly am, and found the courage to be seen and known as that person…and thereby have a truly intimate relationship with the world. I have come to conclude that Steve Jobs, with all his faults, did precisely that his entire life. Perhaps it was that intimacy that enabled him, and those around him, to change the world.


1 thought on “An Inquiry Into Intimacy”

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Roger. I always find your writing well crafted and it always leaves me thinking.

    I too read the Issacson biography of Steve Jobs. Although I knew the story, even the ending, I could not put it down. I found it fascinating. At the time I read the book, I wished for a reading companion to discuss the many twists and turns of Jobs’ very complicated life.

    I believe that he did know himself intimately. And more importantly, that he accepted himself as he was. I think it was the reason that he chose Issacson to write the book and the reason he allowed it to be written with the candor that it was.

    I thought alot about why so many of the people that he interacted with through the years, ultimately respected him and were grateful for his presence in their lives. I think there is something to be said for “living in an alternative reality” and not accepting the limitations of the one we do live in. Jobs pushed himself and the people around him to be “all that they could be.” Granted he did not do it in the manner in which most of us would say we would prefer to be lead, but I do believe he did it in the only manner that he could.

    I also believe that it was precisely because he was comfortable with himself that he was able to interact with people with such brashness. He stripped past the pleasantries of polite society and immediately got to the heart of the matter at hand. Most of us find that very disconcerting. It is far more comfortable to hide behind the trappings of correct behavior and skirt around the real issues. It doesn’t appear that Steve Jobs ever did that.

    He was a brilliant, but flawed man. He was human.

    I hope that as his life came to an end, he was able to feel loved, loved for exactly the human being that he was, warts and all. For love is the gift that true intimacy bestows.

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