The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs – Part 3 : in Memoriam

Tolerate Only “A” Players

Jobs was famously impatient, petulant, and tough with the people around him. But his treatment of people, though not laudable, emanated from his passion for perfection and his desire to work with only the best. It was his way of preventing what he called “the bozo explosion,” in which managers are so polite that mediocre people feel comfortable sticking around. “I don’t think I run roughshod over people,” he said, “but if something sucks, I tell people to their face. It’s my job to be honest.” When I pressed him on whether he could have gotten the same results while being nicer, he said perhaps so. “But it’s not who I am,” he said. “Maybe there’s a better way—a gentlemen’s club where we all wear ties and speak in this Brahmin language and velvet code words—but I don’t know that way, because I am middle-class from California.”

Was all his stormy and abusive behavior necessary? Probably not. There were other ways he could have motivated his team. “Steve’s contributions could have been made without so many stories about him terrorizing folks,” Apple’s cofounder, Wozniak, said. “I like being more patient and not having so many conflicts. I think a company can be a good family.” But then he added something that is undeniably true: “If the Macintosh project had been run my way, things probably would have been a mess.”

It’s important to appreciate that Jobs’s rudeness and roughness were accompanied by an ability to be inspirational. He infused Apple employees with an abiding passion to create groundbreaking products and a belief that they could accomplish what seemed impossible. And we have to judge him by the outcome. Jobs had a close-knit family, and so it was at Apple: His top players tended to stick around longer and be more loyal than those at other companies, including ones led by bosses who were kinder and gentler. CEOs who study Jobs and decide to emulate his roughness without understanding his ability to generate loyalty make a dangerous mistake.

“I’ve learned over the years that when you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them,” Jobs told me. “By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things. Ask any member of that Mac team. They will tell you it was worth the pain.” Most of them do. “He would shout at a meeting, ‘You asshole, you never do anything right,’” Debi Coleman recalls. “Yet I consider myself the absolute luckiest person in the world to have worked with him.”

 

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