The three leaders are arguably the most extraordinary business visionaries of our times. Each of them has introduced unique products that changed – or in Mr. Musk’s case, have huge potential to change – the way we live.
What disheartens me is how little care and appreciation any of them give (or in Mr. Jobs’s case, gave) to hard-working and loyal employees, and how unnecessarily cruel and demeaning they could be to the people who helped make their dreams come true....Given the extraordinary success of these men, the obvious question is whether being relentlessly hard on people, and even cruel, may get them to perform better.Like their biographers, I think the answer is no. Our research at the Energy Project has shown that the more employees feel their needs are being met at work – above all, for respect and appreciation – the better they perform.
Here's how these three "visionary" leaders treated their employees and/or others:
As Mr. Isaacson writes of Mr. Jobs: “Nasty was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him.”
Mr. Jobs drove around without a license on his car, and he regularly parked in spaces reserved for the handicapped. As Mr. Ive said of his attitude, “I think he feels he has a liberty and a license to do that. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him.”Amazon employees collected examples of Mr. Bezos’s most eviscerating put-downs, including, “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” “Why are you wasting my life?” and “I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”When Mr. Musk’s loyal executive assistant of 12 years asked for a significant raise, he told her to take a two-week vacation while he thought about it. When she returned, he told her the relationship wasn’t going to work anymore. According to Mr. Vance, they haven’t spoken since.
And of course all of this nastiness, this "I am the most special person on the planet and you will treat me as such!" stems from the egocentric belief these men had or have of their own so-called genius.
But Schwartz thinks there's another reason Jobs, Bezos and Musk act or acted so badly - out of fear:
People like these three visionaries deeply crave control. Each of them was far more likely to act out suddenly and behave poorly when he wasn’t getting exactly what he wanted — when he felt that others were failing to live up to his standards.All three invested endless hours and energy in building and running their businesses — and far less in anything else, including taking care of the people who worked for them or even understanding what doing so might look like. To a large extent, people were simply a means to an end.I understand what it is like to have one’s self entirely tied up with external success. No amount is ever quite enough. To a large extent, for these men, employees are simply a means to an end.
If you're a teacher these days, you know some of the drill that the people who work or worked for Jobs, Bezos and Musk know because some of the same personality types have been given the power to run school systems and schools themselves.
In the "visions" of the corporate education reformers, students are seen as "products," teachers are seen as a means to an end, control is the most sought-after goal and the only thing that truly matters is imposing an agenda and rigging the data to make it look successful.
Many education leaders these days are little versions of Bezos, Jobs and Musk - always without the "genius" or "vision," of course, though some education leaders think they have it - see Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, Cami Anderson, et al. for the same delusional arrogance and egocentric patterns that Bezos, Jobs and Musk displayed.
But it doesn't really matter whether the Kleins and Rhees of the world have the "genius" or "vision" of Bezos or Jobs or not because a truly successful leader shouldn't be treating people like "products" or a "means to an end," a truly successful leader shouldn't be so obsessed with control and fear that they run roughshod over everybody and everything.
The question their management style raises is not whether being tough, harsh and relentlessly demanding gets people to work better. Of course it doesn’t, and certainly not sustainably. Can anyone truly doubt that people are more productive in workplaces that help them to be healthier and happier?The more apt question is how much more these men could have enhanced thousands of people’s lives – and perhaps made them even more successful — if they had invested as much in taking care of them as they did in conceiving great products.“Try not to become a man of success,” Albert Einstein once said, “but rather a man of value.”
It is time we stop fetishizing so-called corporate geniuses like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and other so-called "visionaries" (you can add many others to the list - Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates come immediately to mind) and call them exactly what they are - sociopaths who in the end do a lot more harm than good.
The same goes for the little versions in education - the Kleins, the Rhees, et al. - who for years have lived on the press of their "visions" and "genius" (think the TIME cover with Rhee on it holding the broom.)
But remember, you can't decry the sociopathology of the Kleins and Rhees of the education world while praising the "genius" and "vision" of sociopaths like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates.
Gates is an easy one for people in the ed world to despise - his foundation's work to destroy public schools makes that an easy thing.
But Steve Jobs still gets fetishized by some for his "genius" and "vision".
Truly his "vision" was "@#$% you, I get my way or I destroy you!"
And that's the kind of vision we can do without these days - in or out of education.
For another example, see one Andrew Cuomo in Albany.