Don’t Idolize Steve Jobs

In the weeks after the death of Steve Jobs,  I became a little concerned about the many fawning tributes to Steve Jobs.  Everywhere I turned there was another story about his great leadership. It’s not that I dislike Apple products (I own an iPhone and love it,  in a zombie apocalypse I would take it with me in hopes there was an app for how to kill zombies) or that I think Steve Jobs was a bad business man or lacked vision.  In fact,   I believe Steve Jobs is one of the greatest technical and marketing visionaries ever.  The day after his death was announced I posted a video of what is probably the best commencement speech I’ve ever heard.

The problem I have with the fawning over Steve Jobs is pretty simple to lay out:

Steve Jobs was not exactly a “nice” person.  He was known to frequently berate employee’s and vendors that he worked with.  In fact he even berated the smoothie lady at Whole Foods, come on! The lady who makes your smoothie?

If you Google the terms “Steve Jobs” and “a**hole”,  you get an astounding 3,470,000 results! Googling “Mark Zuckerberg”  and “a**hole” returns 149,000 results and Googling “Steve Ballmer” and “a**hole”,  returns 210,000 results.  To get a quick overview of the various jerk tendencies he exhibited check out this article from Business Insider.

Steve Jobs was such a genius and visionary that many people probably looked the other way or just wrote it off as the cost of doing business with Apple.  Geniuses across time have been known to be temperamental and moody and there can be some limited virtues to working with jerks, as Bob Sutton explains in chapter six of his excellent book the The No Asshole Rule.

My concern is that people reading about Steve Jobs will overlook or make excuses for his behavior or think that it is okay to act that way because it benefits technology and people who use technology. I’m throwing the yellow penalty flag on that.  Frankly,  many of the things Steve Jobs did would not fly at most companies,  he flouted all of the “management rules” and was successful at it,  but that is because he was an extraordinary person and could get away with it,  most of us can’t and shouldn’t try his methods.

Steve Jobs was a tough business man and I probably would have fired the guy who rolled out MobileMe too (I wouldn’t do in front of a group though),  but I don’t think we should be idolizing him as a model for leadership.  I’m not sure Steve Jobs would want us to either.



A Job Search Is Like Dating, Have You Shared Too Much?

It’s been said before (not sure by who) that finding a candidate to fill a job is a lot like dating. You meet a candidate, review their background, bring them in for an interview, maybe two or three, then decide if you want to continue the relationship by offering them a job.

In dating, you meet someone or get a “referral” from someone you know,  have a couple awkward conversations that hopefully get less awkward and then decide if you want to keep dating.

Pretty simple huh? Not anymore…with the advent of Facebook and Twitter,  your potential dates and potential employers, can now see a wealth of information about your past job history and past dating history.

Dating is fundamentally different because of Facebook and so is your job search.  As a candidate you are encouraged to network,  network,  network, both online and in person.  I am concerned that in a world where everything is becoming less and less private,  candidates can unwittingly open themselves up to over sharing their personal life, without realizing the ramifications.

At what point do you,  HR professional,  have to stop yourself from making a judgement on someone based on what you’ve seen on their Facebook page?

Think about it,  the more you learn about a candidate the more you may find to dislike:  politics,  religion,  reality TV. Personally I would not hire anyone that watches and likes any Kardashian reality TV show…just kidding of course.

My opinion? I don’t think recruiters and HR professionals should use your Facebook page or other information found digging around on the internet to disqualify you for a job.  Laurie Ruettimann,  lays out the case perfectly in her aptly titled post:  Don’t Facebook Me: Why You Shouldn’t Google During the Recruiting Process. It’s rare that I agree with someone 100% but in this case I do.  Who are we to criticize what you like on your Facebook page?  Especially considering how many people are great at hacking into your accounts and causing chaos.

The video below,  puts a comical spin on one candidates  social media usage and how navigating that can be a minefield,  there is a really funny part about four minutes and 40 seconds about Justin Bieber (thank you to The HR Capitalist blog and Ohio Employer’s Law Blog):


Avoiding the Dementor’s Kiss

Monday the Wall St. Journal dedicated an entire section of their paper to Leadership in Human Resources. There is a wealth of great information in this section, I would definitely encourage you to check it out.

One article in particular piqued my interest because it  confirmed some thoughts I’ve had for a long time now, but it’s nice to see an expert back me up.  In this article (found here), the researcher found that an employee’s mood at the start of their day can set the tone for the entire day and thus effect quality of work and productivity. Mood can be effected by any number of things: bad traffic, personal problems, pressure at work or at home.

The part I found most interesting was a call out about contagious emotions:

“You’re not the only one who feels better when you smile.  Research has found that when people display happiness, others also feel happy,  and when people display sadness,  others feel sad. In a classic study,  researchers showed Republicans and Democrats video of then-President Ronald Reagan speaking. They found that while both groups reported different conscious attitudes toward the speech,  their unconscious emotional responses were the same.  Supporters and critics unconsciously changed their facial expressions to mimic President Reagan’s facial expressions,  smiling when smiled,  frowning when he frowned. Moreover,  an analysis of physiological skin reactions showed that regardless of their attitudes toward Mr.  Reagan,  subjects were most relaxed during happiness displays and least relaxed during anger displays.”

I know everyone reading this has had a moment when their great mood or great idea was annihilated due to the nay saying, negative person on your team or in the office, if the person is a higher-up or manager in your organization the effect can be even worse. I’ve been part of  productive brainstorming sessions that rapidly change when the negative cynical person comes in the room; its like Dementor’s have come in and sucked all the happiness out of the room.

I’ve always felt these bad apples were some of the worst offenders in the office. They often leave a path of destruction that seems to go unnoticed for long periods of time.  If you are already having a bad day, dealing with one of these can seal it. So what can managers and HR do to help employee’s process the various negatives in a day and still be productive ?

A couple great suggestions from this article:

  • allowing people a few minutes of appropriate venting at the beginning of a meeting,
  • bringing slinky’s or stress balls to a meeting,
  • NOT jumping down the throat of someone who is late for a meeting- public humiliation doesn’t do much for the motivation muscle;  that’s shocking isn’t it?
  • Smile! Especially leadership, unless there is a dire situation where it would be inappropriate, a positive affect seems to work.

Few of us have the  influence to call out the bad apples we have to deal with on a daily basis but it’s good to know this can be combated with nothing more deadly then a smile or an aware manager that’s read this article.  After all, that’s better then the Expecto Patronum charm (sorry can’t embed):



Seth Godin, is one of the most popular writers,  speakers, bloggers, and marketers.  According to his own website,  he has written thirteen books; many are bestsellers. His blog consistently ranks in the top 100 blogs,  according to Technorati.

One of his recent books, Linchpin published in January 2010, is a non-fiction book that bills itself as a passionate manifesto about the new world of work and how to excel in it by becoming a linchpin. According to Godin, linchpin’s are the:

“artists…with a genius for finding a new answer,  a new connection,  or a new way of getting things done” (please note all quotes from the book are from the paperback edition published by Portfolio Trade,  April 26, 2011).

Godin does an excellent job describing the value of linchpins in modern organizations.  A linchpin, the ultimate indispensable employee=,  is very difficult to outsource.  As technology changes at warp speed,  modern companies need more linchpins and less bureaucrats.  More people that can work without a map,  less people that need a map.

Some of the most famous examples of linchpins would be former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, or Jeff Bezos at Amazon.  Godin however, argues that there are far more linchpins in the world then we realize.  They are at all levels of the organization from  the baker at your local grocery store to the CFO. Godin’s message is not that everyone should quit their job and start a business,  nor is it that everyone can be a Fortune 500 CEO.

His simple message is to bring passion to what you do, make it art,  invest emotion in your labor,  no matter what you do.  This is a honest and refreshing message to hear in a world that is obsessed with quick fixes.

Godin believes linchpins are artists, by his  definition someone who “uses bravery, insight, creativity and boldness to challenge the status quo.” Artists become linchpins by giving their artwork as a gift.  He provides the example of the  famous photographer Anne Liebowitz,  early in her career she went above and beyond in her job by shooting creative shots, not requested by the client.  She  slowly built up her career and her reputation by giving these as gifts and thus became a linchpin.

Godin spends twenty plus pages on the intersection of artistry and gift giving.  It is a well developed theory but it could have been shortened.  At times I struggled to remember how this related back to the main theme.  Other chapters, such as “The Resistance” show Godin at his most inspirational and helpful. If you can only read one chapter from this book read the Resistance chapter.

Overall,  this book is an easy read although it is a little long at times. It presents an inspirational and motivational view of the new world at work. I would recommend this book to people at any level in their professional careers.

The challenge for HR is finding the linchpins at all levels of the organization and designing systems that reward these contributors. Too often HR focuses their time, budget and attention designing rewards for the middle and top layer of the organization.  What can we do to find, reward and retain, the best employee’s at all levels?