Saturday, May 31, 2014

Why People Worked for Steve Jobs?

As I often do, I was having a conversation about culture and leadership, in what makes a great business. It’s a topic I know well and with a beverage involved the conversation started to get quite deep. The local business leader and I were heavily focused on one of my new theories, The Leadership BELs and here is where the conversation took a turn. His question, which came across in a heightened tone and with some demand was one I had gotten before… However, this was the first time I was ready for it! With respect to business leadership and retention of talent, he asked.

“So then, why did people stay working for Steve Jobs? He was a real jerk!”   

I believe he is right, Steve Jobs was a bit, ok a lot brass and tough on people, maybe even a complete jerk. Even with all that you hardly heard about people quitting under Jobs. Jobs had something that most leaders that have these same behaviors do not. Here are the 3 reasons people stayed working for Steve Jobs:

 1.    Part of something bigger – People want to feel apart of something bigger than themselves, bigger than just the CEO of the company. In fact if you consider Tony Hsieh’s happinessframework the fourth and final piece is “Vision/Meaning (Being part of something bigger than yourself).” Jobs believed he could change the world. Apple certainly did and continues to do so. People stayed working for Jobs because he made them feel part of something bigger.

2.     Proud – People want to be proud of the work they do, what they deliver and what they and their company stand for. Jobs was super critical of the people who built Apple’s products, making no detail too small to focus on. He was notorious for making sure leaks about products didn’t get out. When you see the amount of pressure people we put under during this design, build and pre-release phase, it’s hard to understand why they didn’t all get up and quit?  Was anything worth that level of treatment? However, I can guarantee that there was not a single Apple employee that wasn’t “Proud," gleaming with pride, when Jobs introduced the first iPhone or pulled the Macbook Air from an envelope at MacWorld. People stayed working for Jobs because, in the end, they were very proud!

3.    Always growing – People want to feel like they are always growing, getting better and adding new skills to themselves. Harvard’s Teresa Amabile‘s research found that nothing is more motivating than progress. My own happiness at work theory (Happy @Work = Aligned + Growth + Listened) includes growth. While people might have felt like Jobs ripped them a new one over the quality of their work, Jobs always pushed his people to grow. People stayed working for Jobs because they continued massive personal growth.

Let's be overwhelmingly clear… I am never, ever condoning acting like a jerk. I personally believe that culture begins with civility and simply demanding that people treat each other with respect at all times, especially in front of others. So if you’re a jerk... STOP it, you’re no Steve Jobs!    

“So if you’re a jerk... STOP it, you’re no Steve Jobs!”

When we consider how Steve Jobs, even with his irate behavior was able to draw and maintain such a high quality of talent, it was only with the overwhelmingly, over the top delivery of the above attributes dramatically out weighs his behavior, that this freak of nature was able to be a so successful.


so I’ll ask you… do you really believe you’re the next Steve Jobs (you’re not), and you can outweigh your behaviors or will you just adopt his great attributes? :D


p.s. Personally, I believe that Jobs was an alien or a time traveler… there is just no way one guy delivers all that evolution in just one lifetime. :D