The mythological version of Steve Jobs takes many forms. There's the brash hacker who impishly used technology to make long distance phone calls for free. There's the master salesman with the reality distortion field who could convince you to invent reasons you needed a new product. And then there's the taskmaster -- the unyielding boss, driven and ruthless to competitors and employees alike.
The truth is more complex. Steve Jobs was a perfectionist and could focus on the smallest detail. To an engineer, the detail might seem insignificant. But to Jobs, if that detail didn't meet his approval it was a showstopper. He wasn't shy about expressing his opinion and could even end a project meeting early if something struck him as being wrong.
Jobs would heap praise on employees who got results. But the same employee who might be applauded one day could get chewed out the next day. Apple employees who worked with Jobs have said that they did some of their best work for him but that the experience was grueling [source: Deutschman].
Jobs could be abrasive. Sometimes, he used an aggressive approach to test employees. Those who could defend their work or point of view he would listen to. Those who couldn't, he would dismiss -- sometimes literally. He may even have used sharp criticism to encourage employees to work harder, knowing that he was feeding on their own insecurities. It got results but it probably wasn't the most pleasant work environment.
Jobs's approach might go against every manual on leadership that's in print but in the end Apple produced some of the most successful electronics for the consumer market ever to hit store shelves. And despite his reputation for being harsh and demanding, Jobs earned the devotion and admiration of many of his employees. Like other visionaries before him, the reality of Steve Jobs might just be larger than the myth.
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