Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Demanding But Nice

In the startup world, many make the assumption that being demanding means being mean.

We read stories about Steve Jobs making people cry, or Jeff Bezos screaming at people in one of his "nutters."

I get the sense that most people decide that Leo Durocher was right--nice guys do finish last.*

* The actual quote: "The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place."

This is a terrible tragedy.  One of the reasons we've seen so many instances of founders behaving badly is the way we fetishize the mean, demanding founder.

But focusing on being a stone cold killer misses the point--it's not the meanness that matters, but being demanding.

Entrepreneurs have to be demanding.  You can't build an insanely great product or a killer app (side note: even the language we use for success is violent and harsh!) without setting and enforcing high standards.

But there's no reason you can't be demanding but nice.

Jobs said things like, "This product is a disgrace.  You should be ashamed of yourself.  You're lucky I don't fire you."

Yet if someone said these things to you, would you be motivated?  Or cowed?

Instead, you can simply say, "I don't think the current version of the product will be intuitive to our target users."

I think one of the reasons founders employ the harsh approach is that it tends to shorten the decision cycle.  By snapping at people and emotionally abusing them, you teach them learned helplessness so that they don't debate your input, but rather scurry off to try to carry out your wishes.

Yet whatever speed you gain by abusing your people is a short term gain that is penny wise and pound foolish.

If you set and maintain high standards, and treat people with respect and kindness, your results will be far better than if you resort to cruelty to intimidate your team into giving you what you want.