Tech guru Steve Jobs was as well-known for his prickly personality as he was for his innovation and creative mind. And he was far from the only tech CEO who has a reputation for their temper. From Travis Kalanick to Jeff Bezos to Larry Ellison, it seems that massive software success and bad behavior in the boardroom go hand-in-hand.
The Steve Jobs biography was the worst thing to happen to leadership in the past 50 years. The biographical account of Steve Jobs’ petulant, aggressive leadership style gave an entire generation of young tech founders and CEOs an excuse for being a jerk.
Alas, Steve Jobs was not the first. The tech industry is known for visionary jerks. In their younger years, many of tech’s greatest CEOs were jerks at best, or narcissists at worst.
Many tech CEOs are guilty of creating a similar culture in their workplaces, myself included.
Like today’s young tech CEOs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, et al were my business idols. And, like the young CEOs today, I sought to adopt their leadership style. I was an entrepreneurial leader who — like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates — frequently criticized team members in front of their peers for less than perfect work. I was a leader who reserved praise for only superhuman efforts. In any given year, the number of times I gave positive encouragement or praise could often be counted on one hand.
A self-described “Recovering A@#hole” CEO, I posit that the Steve Jobs biography may have inadvertently created a generation of jerk CEOs, which does a disservice not only to employees, but to a company’s bottom line as well. Leaders who rely primarily in negative feedback are practicing lazy leadership. Changing an employee’s behavior through encouragement and positive reinforcement takes more initial effort. First, you need to tailor tasks to people’s strengths so that they can perform to the best of their ability, then you need to be perceptive to notice what they did well and take time to give them that positive feedback.
The reality is that, while criticism is much more efficient to deliver, it is extremely ineffective in changing behavior. So, CEOs and leaders need to ask themselves: What is my goal: to improve performance, or to tell people what they did wrong?
Here are my top tips for bosses in the tech industry who fear that they aren’t performing up to their true potential.
Tip #1. Stop trying to be the smartest person in the room.
We assume that the CEO should be the smartest person in the room. But once I dropped that goal, I was able to step back and let my team’s true talents shine. I stopped thinking I had to do everything myself if I wanted it done right. I had more faith in my team and, ultimately, myself. After all, I am the one who hired them, so I had to trust my instinct that they could perform well.
Tip #2. Don’t assume your employees think like you.
One of the biggest mistakes that employers make is they assume that their employees approach life with the same mindset as they do. This just isn’t true. It might not be a big deal to you to get a short, dismissive email from a higher-up, or to never get any praise, but the opposite might be true for your staff. Your differing levels of power mean that their need for positive feedback is much different than yours.
Think of it this way: your position of power affords you organic praise every day. You feel important and necessary every time you walk into the office, whereas a junior employee likely doesn’t. Hence, for them, a small word of praise is positively vital. So don’t assume that saying “Good job!” isn’t important just because you personally never need to hear it.
Tip #3. Don’t tell people what to do.
Instead of giving people the answer you want, ask open-ended questions and let them find their own way. This is the only way you can help your employees develop and grow. If you hold their hands every step of the way, they will never develop the skills you desire. A good leader should be like a North Star guiding his staff towards the solutions, rather than the captain grabbing the wheel.
Tip #4. Realize the true impact of your negative behavior.
It’s important to realize that your A@#hole CEO behavior is impacting more than just your employees. They are taking that anger and frustration home, taking it on their kids and families, and spreading that toxicity around. Eventually, their personal relationships start to feel the strain. In fact, research shows that a bad boss can have a huge negative impact on employees’ family life. A job is more than just a paycheck. It influences a person’s feeling of self-worth, their worldview, and even their physical health. So, the way you manage your staff really, really matters.*
Tip #5. Remember, your staff has to WANT to follow you.
At the end of the day, the most important quality in a leader is whether his employees want to follow him, or whether they are just showing up and pulling a paycheck. When you have staff that are inspired, engaged and go home every day feeling proud of themselves, you are winning. Make it your goal that your employees go home feeling like they have learned something new, feeling like they have grown as people and as professionals, and that their work for your company is valued and recognized.
* “That Bad Boss May Be Toxic To Your Family, Too.” By Lisa Esposito, HealthDay Reporter. TUESDAY, July 9, 2013. HealthDay: News for Healthier Living. https://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/behavior-health-news-56/that-bad-boss-may-be-toxic-to-your-family-too-677802.html
About the Author: As a successful former CEO of a company that grew 3,000%, Ungerboeck founded Courageous Growth to assist CEOs with business and personal growth. He works exclusively with owners, CEOs, future CEOs or 2ICs (2nd in Command) to accelerate their business and personal growth. He was chosen to be a part of St Louis 40 under 40, and he is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and Entrepreneurs Organization (EO). For more information, please visit www.primemediamanagement.com.