In 1997, Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company he co-founded, and proceeded to lead one of the most remarkable turnarounds in history. As CEO, he brought Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy, aiding its transformation into the most valuable company on the planet. 

All of this success is even more impressive when we consider that, just 12 years earlier, Jobs was forced out of the company he helped build.

Jobs had a reputation as brilliant and inspiring–but he was also known to be overbearing, impatient, and petulant. Circumstances had eventually become so difficult between him and Apple’s board of directors that the group stripped him of major responsibilities and rendered him nearly powerless. Jobs, feeling betrayed, left the company and founded a new startup named NeXT.

Notably, a number of high-ranking Apple employees followed their former boss to his new company. At the time, Jobs was a cocky, 31-year-old multimillionaire who was almost always convinced he was right. He was harsh and demanding, and he could be very demeaning. So why would this group of sharp, focused individuals leave secure positions to continue working with him?

Andy Cunningham gives us a hint. As Jobs’s PR agent, she helped launch the Macintosh and continued to work with Jobs at NeXT and Pixar. I spoke to Cunningham to understand what she treasured about working with her famous former boss. 

“I spent five years working closely with Steve and it was phenomenal,” Cunningham told me. “What people on the outside saw–the inspiring interviews and brilliant keynotes–that was who he was. And while he could also be very harsh, it was an honor to work with him. The great things in life involve sacrifice, but the tradeoff makes it all worth it.

“Steve touched me emotionally every day with amazement, anger, and satisfaction all at once. He took me way beyond where I ever thought I would go.”

If you ever saw Jobs deliver one of his famous product launches, you witnessed this ability in action. Jobs knew how to tap into the sentiments of his audience. Consumers wanted Apple devices because of the way those products made them feel.

Critics, though, argue that whatever success Jobs achieved was despite his inability to deal well with emotions–both his and those of others.

So, was Steve Jobs emotionally intelligent?

Before answering that question, we need to understand the core concept of emotional intelligence.

The four abilities

To understand the full scope of emotional intelligence, it’s helpful to break it down into four general abilities.

Self-awareness is the ability to identify and understand your own emotions and how they affect you. This means recognizing how emotions impact your thoughts and actions (and vice versa) and how your feelings can help or hinder you from achieving your goals.

Self-management is the ability to manage emotions in a way that allows you to accomplish a task, reach a goal, or provide a benefit. It includes the quality of self-control, which is the ability to control your emotional reactions.

Social awareness is the ability to accurately perceive the feelings of others and understand how those feelings influence behavior.

Relationship management is the ability to get the most out of your connections with others. It includes the ability to influence through your communication and behavior. Instead of trying to force others into action, you use insight and persuasion to motivate them to act on their own accord.

Each of these four abilities is interconnected and naturally complements the others; however, one isn’t always dependent on another. A person will naturally excel at certain aspects of the four abilities and display weaknesses in others. For example, you may be great at perceiving your own emotions, yet struggle to manage those feelings. The key to strengthening your emotional intelligence is first to identify your personal traits and tendencies and then to develop strategies to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

How about Steve Jobs?

Getting back to our question: Was Steve Jobs emotionally intelligent?

He certainly found a way to motivate and inspire many of those he worked with, along with millions of consumers around the globe–even across language and cultural barriers. These are all signs of exceptional social awareness, as well as the ability to influence, which is a key aspect of relationship management.

But what about Jobs’s communication style, which angered and frustrated many? He had become known for wild emotional swings and was perceived as arrogant and narcissistic. His manner pained many–including his family and others with whom he was close. Jobs himself blamed this on a lack of self-control. When his biographer Walter Isaacson asked him why he was sometimes so mean, Jobs replied: “This is who I am, and you can’t expect me to be someone I’m not.”

But Isaacson, who spent a significant amount of time with Jobs over the course of two years, and who interviewed more than a hundred of the famous entrepreneur’s friends, relatives, competitors, and colleagues, believed differently.

“When he hurt people, it was not because he was lacking in emotional awareness,” writes Isaacson. “Quite the contrary: he could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, and know how to relate to them, cajole them, or hurt them at will.”

Would Jobs have changed a few things if he could go back and do it again? It’s impossible to say. But in his story lies a vital lesson: Emotional intelligence manifests itself in various ways. In addition to deciding which abilities you wish to develop, you must also choose how you’re going to use them.

It’s important to realize that just as “traditionally” intelligent people have different personality types, so do those who possess high emotional intelligence. Direct or subtle, extroverted or introverted, naturally empathetic or not–none of these factors determines your EQ.

Developing your emotional acumen is about identifying your natural abilities, tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. It means learning to understand, manage, and maximize all of those traits so you can accurately perceive how your emotions affect your thoughts, words, and actions (and vice versa), and how those words and actions affect others.

Work hard to sharpen your EQ and put it into practice–but don’t do so at the expense of your principles. Rather, use your moral compass to direct your efforts and allow ethics and values to guide your development.

Because that’s the best kind of emotional intelligence: striving to cultivate a mindset of continuous growth, and using your knowledge in a way you can be proud of.

Enjoy this post? It’s an excerpt from my new book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on