“Winning” personality does not mean what some people think it means

A Facebook friend linked to this article by Tom McNichol:

With the death and canonization of Steve Jobs and the emergence of the Jobs biography as a kind of sacred text for managers, the ranks of bosses who see Bad Steve’s nastier traits as something to imitate is liable to swell.

Of the many, many documented things Jobs did while bringing Apple to where it is today, are there really managers out there picking the worst parts of his personality and deciding that’s what to emulate? Or for that matter using Isaacson’s bio as a “sacred text”? I haven’t seen or heard of this management trend, but I haven’t been around a lot of managers lately.

It’s been pointed out that most of Apple’s historic turnaround, including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, happened while Jobs was sick. So I guess managers who want to emulate him should try to get cancer. You know, like those jazz musicians who thought if they shot heroin they’d play like Charlie Parker.

Speaking of drugs, Jobs supposedly said that Bill Gates would have been better off if he’d tried LSD in his youth. Why aren’t managers following that advice? Or are they?

It’s certainly possible there is a correlation between unpleasant personality traits and people who rise to the top in business. Let’s just say such a correlation is not entirely implausible. That does not mean that by going out of your way to hurt people’s feelings you will become a more successful manager or executive.

Here’s Guy Kawasaki on the things he learned from Steve Jobs:

Notice that “be a jerk” is not on the list, which Guy has also written up in various places including Google+.

By the way, Guy gave an excellent version of this talk at MacTech Conference. MacTech will be making it available for free — soon, I hope.

3 thoughts on ““Winning” personality does not mean what some people think it means

  1. I certainly agree that “being a jerk” won’t make one a better CEO, but I do think that part of Jobs’ success came from his single-minded focus and willingness to impose his vision on everyone else. And that’s a very different personality type than someone who cares a great deal what everyone else thinks and accomodates all viewpoints. That being said, I do think that it should be possible to be a focused visionary in mindset, while communicating that vision in a way that’s respectful rather than “jerky”. Though given that both Jobs and Gates were jerks doesn’t make them good examples of that. Certainly there were other executives were were successful while also being decent, but were any of them as effective as Jobs?

  2. I think that Apple thrived despite Jobs’ managerial skill. I also think he was better focused the second time around. But he was like the old-style army boot camp. (See “Full Metal Jacket”.) Sure, it turned out soldiers, but at what cost? Many washed out that would have been fine warriors; you can stress people like in wartime without destroying their minds.

    Today, the services don’t waste people to train them or wash them out, and neither should today’s companies. Especially in today’s world, where mental nimbleness is needed, in both the military and business, the old top-down management style is bad, bad, bad.

    Personally, most of the great programmers that I know (the few and far between) would not survive the Jobs treatment. And that’s both a waste and a crying shame.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>