Only Obsessive Egomaniacs Create Tech Breakthroughs

roaring lion egomaniac

I once worked for a CEO who thought he was the next Larry Ellison. He was an early Oracle employee but did not go so far as owning a yacht or racing team. What he did do was adopt Ellison’s intense leadership style — ultimately creating a workplace of unhappiness and fear. He owned the company so he could do what he wanted. But he pushed out almost everyone who ever worked there.  

Yes, Ellison and others like him pushed a “business-is-a-war” philosophy. Steve Jobs was certainly famous for his. Many see the achievements of these CEOs as proof that outcomes justify the means. I disagree. I do not think you should have to sacrifice respect for others in order to create breakthrough products and companies. And you definitely do not need to be an obsessive egomaniac.

The alternative is taking a human-centric approach to business — doing your best to create a kind, sustainable, and fulfilling workplace for everyone.

At Aha! we achieve this by using a framework we pioneered and named The Responsive Method (TRM). It is grounded in our belief that lasting success originates in respect for and service to others. It gives us a clear purpose and a success framework to return to if we start to drift away.

Whether we are interacting with customers or within our own teams, we get back to people as soon as possible. We share goals, ask questions, and are transparent with the information we have.

I write about the six key principles of TRM extensively in my bestselling new book Lovabilityand reveal how you can use TRM to build better products and companies.

Here is a brief description of those six principles:

  1. Goal-first — Define your vision and make sure everyone understands it.
  2. Wow, curious!  — Be addicted to asking questions and finding the answers.
  3. Interrupt-driven — Listen carefully to the “noise” so you can pick out valuable data.
  4. Yea or nay now — Digest information as quickly as possible to give an answer now.
  5. Transparent — Explain the “why” behind decisions to foster growth and trust.
  6. Kind — Treat others with respect and dignity to build strong relationships.

But I will let you in on a secret — TRM started with just four principles: goal-first, interrupt driven, yea or nay now, and transparent.

After reviewing the list, it soon hit us that you could put in all the effort, be wildly successful… and still be a jerk to people. So we made “kind” our fifth core principle. And then we added “wow, curious!” to the list because all effort should be a quest for deeper learning and achievement.

TRM has worked for us. It is not the only way to build a more human-centric business, but it proves that you do not need to lose your humanity to achieve great things.

Caring for people and providing them with a sense of purpose inspires great work — much more than leading with pressure and fear. Happy people are motivated and get more done. In fact, studies say that happy workers are 12 percent more productive.

So no, you do not need to be an obsessive egomaniac to create a breakthrough product. Sure, you could point to leaders like Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs and call them brilliant visionaries — but not without acknowledging the collateral damage that resulted from their leadership style.

Attempting this type of leadership will almost certainly backfire with an unhappy and unmotivated team. So just be your best self. And be kind to people while you are at it.

How could you bring more kindness to work?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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