** FILE ** In this Oct. 14, 2008 file photo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs smiles during a product announcement at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. Jobs on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009 said he is taking a medical leave of absence until the end of June. Jobs told employees in an e-mail that his health issues are more complex than he thought. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)
I admire what Steve Jobs accomplished in his lifetime. I even wrote my own personal eulogy when he died because I felt a deep connection to him through his Apple products. Jobs always seemed to know what I wanted to buy before I did. Now, small-business owners want to learn to be "just like Steve Jobs" so they can duplicate his success. We are turning to his life for inspiration. Business experts are only to eager to jump on the "genius worship" bandwagon and supply these lessons.
But after reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (who had full access to Jobs during the interview process), I have concluded that you don't want to run your company like Steve Jobs. You can't duplicate his success by being like him. In fact, you don't need to be Steve Jobs to build your company.
Let's examine Jobs' "successful" management practices from Issacson's book:
Tell employees that they are jerks. Jobs frequently told his employees that they would never do anything right. He embarrassed them in front of their peers and fired them on the spot at his personal whim. Many employees were even afraid to take an elevator ride with Jobs for fear they would be fired by the time they got to their floor. What we can really learn from Jobs: Be blunt with people when evaluating their performance. Not giving feedback or being too gentle wastes valuable time, energy and money.
Be rude to your customers. Isaacson tells how Jobs would sometimes respond to a customer's e-mail in the middle of the night telling them 'Here is why your are an idiot'. Fortunately, his emplpyees were never trained on this tact since they have a reputation for excellent service. What we can really learn from Jobs: Don't read your e-mail in the middle of the night or respond when you are angry.
Claim another employee's ideas as your own. Isaacson reports that Jobs frequently did this. Jonathan Ive, Apple's chief industrial designer, tells how Jobs would go through a process of looking at his ideas. Ive said that "later I will be sitting in the audience and he will be talking about it as if it was his idea." What we can really learn from Jobs: Don't do it this way! Share credit when it's due.
Don't let anything get in the way of what you want. Break any contract that you don't like. Don't shrink from any legal challenge. For example, Jobs decided that a shipping company wasn’t delivering spare parts fast enough. The shipper said it couldn’t do better and it was performing according to its agreement. Jobs had Apple break the contract. What we can really learn from Jobs: Never be stuck with a contract that does not meet your company's needs. Try to negotiate a resolution.
Don't give common business courtesy. Jobs' biting criticism extended to the most banal and minor incidents. Isaacson cites examples of a tirade over the "wrong" flowers in his hotel room and a rant about the way his smoothie was prepared. What we can really learn from Jobs: Push people past their limits. Make them produce the best work they did not know they were capable of doing.
If you read this list and you didn't know it was Steve Jobs, would you fire this manager based on their behavior? Impressive results will make your company's employees and vendors much more forgiving. Jobs was a "celebrity" CEO and got away with behavior in his career that most business leaders could never dream about.
Jobs was a complex person from which it is hard to draw solid business lessons. But as Isaacson says, let Jobs' legacy not be his management style, but his passion for what he wanted to achieve.