An Open Letter To Bully Bosses: Steve Jobs’ Greatest Failure Should Be Your Greatest Success


Yes, Steve Jobs changed the world. He was brilliant, fearless, courageous and undeniably successful by all measures but one. See these HBR laudatory reviews? I agree with them all.

But, in his most blatant imperfection, I see great opportunity for you.

The ends don’t justify the means

I know that part of your justification for being a jerk and a corporate bully is the fact that amazing success stories – “great leaders” – like Jobs are far too often colossal assholes. And “we” – the business media – perpetuate and support this lazy approach to success. (Quotes from Wired)

Robert Sutton’s 2007 book, The No Asshole Rule, spoke out against workplace tyrants but made an exception for Jobs: “He inspires astounding effort and creativity from his people,” Sutton wrote. A Silicon Valley insider once told Sutton that he had seen Jobs demean many people and make some of them cry. But, the insider added, “He was almost always right.”

“Steve proves that it’s OK to be an asshole,” says Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s former chief evangelist. “I can’t relate to the way he does things, but it’s not his problem. It’s mine. He just has a different OS.”

Every time we give a Steve Jobs a hall pass for tyranny, we let you succumb to the either/or thinking that justifies demeaning people as merely the opposite of “mamby pamby management.”

I call bullshit

I’m tired of everyone giving you an out.

I challenge you to aspire to his perfectionism, drive, enthusiasm and heart and reject his need to manage others by fear.

I challenge you to create a culture in which your employees feel safe speaking their truth, because you and your business will benefit as much as the individuals who find their voice.

I challenge you to be as demanding of yourself and your personal power as you are of your company. Sure, screw up and ruin some people’s lives but fail fast and go back and apologize as you move on personally and with the business. And most importantly, don’t do it again.

I understand, this probably wasn’t how you were mentored, that The Donald sits glittery and gold on top of the ego school of management and that jerkdom as corporate culture is all you’ve ever known about what success looks like, but the standards of true success are changing. If the spontaneous combustion of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon should teach us anything, it’s that financial success no longer gets you off the hook for being a greedy, narcissistic hard-ass who wins by accumulating wealth at the expense of everyone around you.

I’m not alone in asking this of you. But if you just don’t buy it, get yourself a good executive coach or step aside. Think you have too much to lose? Take it from the great Jobs, you really don’t.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” ~Steve Jobs, Stanford University Commencement Address, 2005

But if you just can’t do it – like he couldn’t – if you’re not up to it, get out of the way and let someone else take a shot at it. The Gen Y leaders of tomorrow are snapping at your heels and I have faith they will figure it out.

Don’t think you can run a successful company and be a good human being? If that’s the case, then you’re no Warren Buffett.

I Speak My Truth. Do you?

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