CIO Briefing

The wrong lesson for bosses to learn from Steve Jobs

Jeff Chiu/AP file photo

One reading of Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography suggests the key to success is being a jerk, a piece of advice that some bosses have taken too literally. But science is on the side of nice bosses. It has found mean bosses lead to lower worker satisfaction, which in turn leads to worse financial performance. For this month's Wired cover story Ben Austen writes of the acolytes following Jobs too literally: "Businesspeople who have taken the life of Steve Jobs as license to become more aggressive as visionaries, as competitors, and above all as bosses." They are people like Steve Davis, CEO of TwoFour, who told Austen he has set aside family for work. Or Tristan O’Tierney, a software developer for Apple that also helped found Twitter, who admitted his pushy methods come with "collateral damage." "You make them better by forcing people to do work they didn’t know they had in them," he said. While these theories might have worked for Jobs, who was known to berate employees, that is the exact wrong impression these entrepreneurs and managers should get from the book. At least, if they want to get the most productivity out of their workers. 
 
In his book  The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t Robert Sutton argues this type of behavior causes overall financial damages to a company. In it, for example, he points to one company that ran a cost analysis, finding a mean manager's behavior cost it $160,000 in one year. He also notes the many successful companies -- Google, Virgin Atlantic, and Southwest, for example -- that had leaders who didn't abuse their workers. More recent research has confirmed his findings. One study found a direct correlation between worker engagement and "leadership effectiveness," as the chart above shows. A study of government employees had a similar outcome, finding worker unhappiness tied to unsavory boss behavior. Some might argue "engagement" and "satisfaction" have nothing to do with the bottom line. But, a group of studies have shown that the worker unhappiness caused by said horrible humans, and vice versa, has a domino effect. "Specifically, in Sears' case, when employee satisfaction improved by 5 percent, customer satisfaction improved by 1.3 percent, which led to a .05 percent improvement in revenue. That might not sound significant, but for $50 billion Sears, that that came to an extra $250 million in sales revenue," explains Harvard Business Review's Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman

Read the full story at The Atlantic Wire.

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// November 21
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