Apple and Microsoft both ousted executives in the last few weeks for abrasive management styles. Scott Forstall was Apple’s head of iOS software and Steven Sinofsky ran Windows. Both managers caused a lot of friction, but their approaches were overlooked for many years because they got results.
The shakeups got me thinking about the management archetype of the “Brilliant Jerk”. Many organizations have this archetype. The big question is whether the brilliance outweighs the jerkiness.
The classic defense of the Brilliant Jerk is Steve Jobs. The argument is that Apple’s products couldn’t be so single-minded and uncompromising without a dictator at the top. The Steve Jobs argument is used to justify a lot of jerky behavior in many workplaces. Yet in many of those companies, the Brilliant Jerk is no Steve Jobs.
It is often easier to quantify the value of the Brilliance (sales, profitability, new product success, supply chain rates, etc.) than it is to quantify the cost of the Jerkiness (morale, employee turnover, restructuring, etc.). That can lead organizations to put off taking action.
Stanford professor Bob Sutton wrote a book called “The No Asshole Rule” about this tension. He argues that the jerkiness never outweighs the brilliance. Sutton even outlines an economic analysis called the TCA (Total Cost of Assholes) to calculate the costs on the rest of the organization. It includes time spent appeasing, calming, and counseling the Brilliant Jerk and cooling out employees who are victimized, as well as bigger Legal and HR costs.
I’m interested in your thoughts and experiences on how best to address the Brilliant Jerk in the workplace.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)