Thursday, July 02, 2015

Big Jerks as Great Visionaries? Or Vice-Versa?

Elon Musk

As I was reading Tony Schwartz's recent article, "The Bad Behavior of Visionary Leaders" (NYT, June 26, 2015), I finally understood why visionaries like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk can be so "unnecessarily cruel and demeaning . . . to the people who helped make their dreams come true." Schwartz helped me see why:
I would argue that most of the bad behavior of these men is fear-based, impulsive and reactive rather than consciously hurtful. It grows not out of a sense of superiority but rather of insecurity.
Still, why the insecurity? They're geniuses. The insecurity comes from the fact that those around them are not all geniuses. Schwartz tells us:
I know well the anxious feeling that can arise when a deal is coming undone, a project isn't gelling or an employee seems to be falling short. I know how frightening it can be to feel out of control . . . . Each of [these three visionaries] . . . was far more likely to act out suddenly and behave poorly when he wasn't getting exactly what he wanted - when he felt that others were failing to live up to his standards.
I finally understood. Great visionaries make great demands. Insanely great demands. They do so for their visions, and if they see their vision fading because of some employee failing to perform in an insanely great fashion, they lose control in trying to maintain control.

I can see how that happens. I understand . . . and I learn something new every day.

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At 5:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

True, another reason I believe these extraordinary visionaries are successful is they have the ability to share the vision and bring together highly functioning teams to make miracles happen. I watched Elon Musk on a TED presentation a few years ago. He may be a bit insanely sane, but his enthusiasm and drive had me believing in everything he presented.

The visionaries you mentioned are not known for their people skills. Another rare visionary is one like Sam Walton who probably knew more about retail and selling stuff than almost anyone, but he did it by getting people to perform at their personal best not measured by his own drive and standards. One of my favorite sayings of Mr. Sam was something like "Believe and trust in your associates. They will then believe and trust in you, and both of these will lead everyone to give their best all of the time." Mr. Sam did not expect his level of performance from every associate, he just expected your personal best at all times.


At 6:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sounds like you've learned a lot working for Mr. Sam down the years.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:21 AM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

Funny how quick the visionaries are forgotten. I wouldn't be enjoying the wonderful inventions of air conditioning, radio and television, or perusing the Internet on my laptop right now had it not been for the insanely-driven, winner of the "War of the Currents," and master of electricity, Nikola Tesla. I just re-watched one of the better television biographies of his life from PBS, and it still rankles me just how little credit he gets for besting Thomas Alva Edison's DC debacle while Marconi used his patents to supposedly invent radio. Sadly, Tesla received neither the accolades or money for his enormous achievements for the betterment of humankind.

At least these Johnny come lately generation of inventors are getting their shares of both the pie and the glory that Tesla never got during his lifetime.

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tesla was one-of-a-kind. He had the unique gift of visualizing three-dimensional objects in his mind and rotating them to see them from any angle, an ability very useful for an inventor.

And he didn't get the accolades he deserved . . . until now, when his reputation is growing.

Jeffery Hodges

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