Saturday, December 3, 2011

Barney Frank, Steve Jobs, brash bosses, and over-the-top petulance vs. accomplishment

There was an interesting commentary by Jena McGregor on Barney Frank's management/leadership style in The Washington Post entitled "Barney Frank and the cult of brash bosses."
Must leaders be nice to be noteworthy?
We don't have to look much further than Steve Jobs to see they don't have to. The former Apple CEO could be, as we all know by now, a grade-A jerk who threw tantrums, parked in handicapped spots, and was fully capable of so-called gratuitous nastiness. Some are even worried that "with the death and canonization of Steve Jobs and the emergence of the Jobs biography as a kind of sacred text for managers," writes Tom McNichol over at the Atlantic, "the ranks of bosses who see Bad Steve's nastier traits as something to imitate is liable to swell." Jobs, he writes, is considered by too many people in Silicon Valley to be "living proof" that being an ass was a big part of leading a good company.
Of course, Steve Jobs was not a phenomenal innovator because of his leadership style; he was wildly successful in spite of it. And no, I'm not going to draw some pained parallel between the brilliance of Steve Jobs and the ornery intelligence of Barney Frank. But it's worth considering when being a nasty boss can help and when it hurts. In a world in which extreme attention to detail is needed—like, say, technology development—or when there's a real need for motivation, there could be some virtues to having a controlling jerk in the top chair. Because many such managers are equally good at turning on the charm when needed, McNichol writes, their salesmanship could outweigh their bad sides. And occasionally, brash thinking (and unfortunately, brash behavior) goes hand-in-hand with an appetite for innovation and risk that other more measured leaders can't really summon from themselves.
But in most cases, it's obvious that over-the-top petulance stands in the way of accomplishment. That's especially so in a place like Congress where negotiating skills and relationship building are supposedly the keys to success. Sure, a combative and abrasive style might win leaders points in the highly polarized dysfunction that is today's Congress. But it could also cause them to lose the most accomplished legacy possible.
Maybe bosses are like (removing) band-aids, "fast or slow", choose your style of pain.

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