Are Screamers the Best Managers?

If you think about some of the most successful business leaders who would you name?

If you’re a technology guy like me you might say Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. If you’re in the entertainment industry, you might mention Walt Disney. In my own life, I’d put the founder of the consulting firm I used to work for as a great business leader.

There is one key personality trait that is common to all of the leaders listed above….They are all screamers! And by “screamer” I mean that they manage by biting the head off of employees who are not performing at the level that the leader believes they should.

These leaders don’t quietly say that it would be best if the employee improved their performance. No, they scream that the person is a “Fucking Idiot!!!” for doing it the way they did it. And they better work the weekend to make it better or they’re fired!!!

Think I’m making this stuff up? Let’s run through some examples:

  • Gates: Whenever a project was not going well at Microsoft, Gates would storm over and scream. “I’ve never met a stupider, more inept group in my fucking life!”, “How fucking hard can it be?”. When asked about Gates people often say things like “There were times he’d yell uncontrollably at me, spit between his teeth, just like my little boy.”  These kind of quotes are repeated over and over in most any biography about Gates.
  • Jobs: Jobs is known to fire people in a tantrum or scold them profusely if they disagree with him. During a meeting, one of the great Pixar founders dared to write on Jobs whiteboard and Jobs threw such a fit that the man left the company.  According to biographer Deutschman. “No one greets him or says hi to him. Low ranking employees are afraid of him. I remember him walking around the campus one time and groups of people in his way would just split and let him walk through.”
  • Disney: Disney’s animators were similarly terrified of him. He would prowl the halls at night and review their drawings. In the morning he would rip them a new one in front of their peers if he did not like the direction something was heading. Most animators would try to avoid him.

As horrible as these people sound, somehow they pushed their people and their companies to achieve greatness. In fact, all of their companies dramatically declined after they left. Disney Entertainment didn’t really recover until about 30 years after their founder’s death when they got another set of screamers (Eisner and Katzenberg). Apple progressively declined after Steve Jobs was let go and was finally rescued when Jobs returned. Microsoft has been on a steady decline since Gates began to focus on other ventures and then finally retire. And my old consulting company has lost its luster without its screaming founder.

So what makes screamers so great? In a nutshell, they will accept nothing but the best and they are passionate about their product.  That in itself is a recipe for great leadership even if it comes in a loud screaming package…

It’s painful when you have some people who are not the best people in the world […] My job has sometimes exactly been that — to get rid of some people who didn’t measure up. Steve Jobs

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Are Screamers the Best Managers?

  1. I actually disagree! I just read a book by Tony Dungy called Quiet Strength, and in it he talked about his faith and his leadership principles (the title says a lot) and he was the exact opposite of a screamer… and was a phenomenal NFL football coach. You should read the book actually, Mike gave it to Charlie, and it is much more about his faith than football. If I liked it, you would like it. But he ain’t no screamer, that’s for sure.

  2. The funniest screamer I ever watched was Steve Ballmer who kept yelling: “Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers!”

    I think you need to be tenacious, passionate, and indomitable. That often includes screaming, but doesn’t have to.

  3. I have read a couple books that try to stress the other side, but it sure seems like many of the really successful leaders are screamers. I’ll have to read the Dungy book as I’ve heard it was good from others as well.

    Ballmer is an interesting one because he is totally a screamer, BUT the company seems to have gotten much worse under his leadership. Maybe there is more needed than just screaming?

  4. I refuse to work for a screamer.  I don’t need their howling inadequacies to motivate me.  If they achieve greatness, it’s accidental, and they think it’s all about them.  What a sad mistake.  So much hurt is redirected to attack others for the self-absorption that comes from deep inner soul damage.  Obama is a perfect example – he may not scream like Jobs, but he’s just as sick.  I doubt I’ll ever own an Apple product and my life won’t miss it.

Comments are closed.