Friday, March 2, 2012

Does the Difficult Boss Always Deserve to Be Fired?

English: Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone...I have been fascinated by the media coverage about Steve Jobs, since he passed away late last year. It is virtually impossible to watch a show about his life without hearing that a) he was a brilliant visionary and b) he was extremely difficult to work for.

Anyone who has spent time in the working world has run into difficult people. It’s inevitable. (The same applies to families and just about any group you can imagine.) When the difficult person is your boss, the complexities of dealing with that person rise tremendously. After all, he or she is your boss – holds the cards, has influence over your career, and can make your daily life miserable.

Interviews with team members and employees that worked with (and for) Steve Jobs inevitably mention that he was difficult. They mention impossible schedules, impossible requirements, and (of course) yelling and ranting.

By all accounts, Jobs was maniacally focused on his vision to change the world. But even as these employees discuss how difficult Jobs was to work for, they say it with reverence – as if they would have had it no other way. That was the man, and the way you worked with the man.

Many of you reading this will have a story about a difficult (or even impossible) boss. I have my own stories. Many of us would argue (as Robert Sutton does in The No Asshole Rule) that these bosses should be fired.

But is that always true? Is it possible that there is a place in the business world for difficult bosses? Is it possible that the best bosses need a little bit of crazy to be successful? Is it maybe even necessary to break (almost) all the rules when you are striving to create something entirely new? Is there some quality (perhaps it’s the visionary brilliance) that tempers the difficult behaviors, making an otherwise unacceptable boss okay?

Or, is it possible that Jobs could have been just as effective a boss, without employing the tactics that have branded him as difficult to work for? What do you think?


Joanne said...

It takes very little to interfere with someone's vision, and to try to sway it. It can seem that the type of behavior you mention is in the defense of a vision Jobs lived and breathed. I'd say the behavior was probably necessary, and effective.

KarenG said...

It's the easy boss who should be fired, because he's probably not getting the most from his employees.

Liane said...

I think how you define "difficult boss" depends on who YOU are as a person; your perception often determines your "truth".

I've worked for one boss who warned me in my interview that people called him difficult and pedantic, but I guess I was just as anal, because I didn't see what everyone else's problem was - this boss and I was on the "same page". This boss knew what he wanted - excellence - and he wasn't prepared to settle for less. He has taught me much and he has an awesome reputation in the market place - people respect him.

Then I've worked for a "difficult boss" who victimized me, trying to force her authority on me - showing me who was boss. This was the most horrific work experience I've ever had and it caused me physical and emotional trauma that took a very long time to heal.

According to what people say of Jobs, I think each of my two bosses can be described as "difficult bosses", but one made me soar to greater heights than I thought possible, and the other trampled me in the dirt till there was near nothing left.

I'd say: define "difficult"

Carol Kilgore said...

Now that I'm my own boss, I have to say I'm the most difficult boss I ever worked for. Please don't fire me!

Happy Weekend :)

Colette Martin said...

Great thoughts from everyone! I do think there is a fine line between the difficult boss who needs to go and the difficult visionary boss. And sometimes, it may be hard to tell the difference.

Carol, I think many of us are harder on ourselves than anyone else ever could be!

Liz Fichera said...

I've found that the best boss of me is me. :)

One Womans Eye said...

I think by definition most bosses are difficult. I am the boss of me and I can be quite difficult at times. (ha!)

For me, it comes to respect. If I can respect my boss and see their vision, I don't always have to like them. I've worked for people I respected and those I did not. It's when they haven't earned my respect that their difficult nature comes into question.

With Jobs, his difficult nature was accepted because he was respected for his genius.

Traub Motorcycle Detective said...

Here are three types of people which the authors say should be fired immediately: