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What Every Boss Can Learn from Steve Jobs

The New Yorker has a fascinating profile of Jony Ive, the famous chief designer of Apple’s hardware and software. The piece gives an inside look into the company’s notoriously secret product development but also includes this description of an argument between Ive and his legendary boss, the late Steve Jobs:

Jobs’s taste for merciless criticism was notorious; Ive recalled that, years ago, after seeing colleagues crushed, he protested. Jobs replied, “Why would you be vague?,” arguing that ambiguity was a form of selfishness: “You don’t care about how they feel! You’re being vain, you want them to like you.” Ive was furious, but came to agree. “It’s really demeaning to think that, in this deep desire to be liked, you’ve compromised giving clear, unambiguous feedback,” he said.

Ezra Klein: “You can take this insight too far, and if the stories about Jobs are any indication, he almost certainly did. But in trying to separate the tales of Jobs’ brutality from his legendary effectiveness as a manager, this is probably a good place to start. Jobs was able to give his employees something many managers can’t: clear feedback. And that’s because he understood something that many managers don’t: it’s actually unpleasant to work for a manager who desperately wants to be liked.”

Wired digs deeper into whether Jobs should be an inspiration for managers: “Indeed, his life story has emerged as an odd sort of holy scripture for entrepreneurs—a gospel and an antigospel at the same time. To some, Jobs’ life has revealed the importance of sticking firmly to one’s vision and goals, no matter the psychic toll on employees or business associates. To others, Jobs serves as a cautionary tale, a man who changed the world but at the price of alienating almost everyone around him. The divergence in these reactions is a testament to the two deep and often contradictory hungers that drive so many of us today: We want to succeed in the world of work, but we also want satisfaction in the realm of home and family. For those who, like Jobs, have pledged to ‘put a dent in the universe,’ his thorny life story has forced a reckoning. Is it really worth being like Steve?”