Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are among the most successful entrepreneurs of the modern age, men who created products and services that changed the fabric of American society. They are inspirations who proved that one person can change the world, if they put their mind to it.
But here’s a dirty little secret about those three, and dozens of others who fall into the same category: they are kind of jerks. Or, they at least come across that way to their employees.
For example, Gates, a great man in real life, was incredibly hard on his employees, with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen describing working for Gates as “being in hell.” Jobs, not necessarily a great man in real life, was a very difficult man to be aroundand incredibly demanding on his employees.
Other incredibly-successful entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and even Elon Musk have similar reputations: hard-driving task masters who value the needs of their companies over their employees’ feelings. It raises the question: to be a successful entrepreneur, do you have to be a jerk to your employees?
You probably don’t have to be. But the truth is, most successful entrepreneurs are, but not because they are necessarily trying to be or because they are terrible people.
Instead, being hard on their employees is really just a side effect of a critical factor in becoming a great entrepreneur: an unwavering, clear vision of the final result.
True entrepreneurs, if looked at through a different lens, could be described as mad. They see something that no else can see perfectly clearly, and get frustrated when other people don’t see it the way they do.
Sounds like full-fledged schizophrenia, quite frankly.
Bezos, for example, dreamed up of the idea for Amazon while driving across country in 1994. Once he had that vision, he clearly saw what Amazon – at least in its initial stages – should look like.
So when he hires people to help make that dream a reality, imagine the frustration he feels when they don’t see what he so clearly has pictured in his head. To him, he is pointing to the moon and his employees are starring at his finger, whereas us normal folk have no idea what the heck he’s talking about because we can’t see the moon in the first place.
Secondly, Bezos and others of his ilk see the picture so clearly that they can’t help but want to make it a reality as quickly as possible. It is similar to the Michelangelo quote, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
Meanwhile, the rest of us a) don’t see the angel in the marble (or the online bookstore that changes the way the world shops) and b) don’t care as much to set the angel free (or to build said bookstore). So while most of us are thinking, “I want to get home so I can watch the latest Better Call Saul (solid show by the way),” Michelangelo and Bezos are saying, “How can you even think about stop working until the angel is free?”.
Here’s another part of it: most successful entrepreneurs are on the thinking side of the scale in Myers-Briggs Personality test, as opposed to feeling. What that means is that they make decisions from a logical, objective perspective as opposed to figuring out what decision will produce the most harmonious outcome.
To many people, that type of personality is often seen as aloof and therefore unlikeable. Additionally, because they are rational decision makers who have such a clear vision, they become frustrated with arguments that they see as not as rational and are quick to dismiss them.
I don’t believe that really successful entrepreneurs are bad people who purposely disparage their employees. Instead, it is much more likely they are driven people with a clear vision most of us can’t see, and become frustrated with that reality.
When I was 15, I started working with my father at his construction business. While my father was an incredibly patient man who never raised his voice, you could see he would get frustrated with myself and all the rest of his workers for not seeing what he saw.
My father saw the house built before we ever laid the foundation, which is why it made him such a great builder. Bezos, Jobs, Gates and others like them saw their company built before they ever even started.
So they aren’t jerks or arrogant or aloof, they are just trying to construct that house as quickly as humanly possible, because in their mind it’s already built. Unfortunately, that often means riling a few people up along the way.
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