TimothyTiah.com

Do you have to be an asshole CEO to get shit done?

If you read all the best practice management books about how to manage people, they always talk about how we should treat our staff respectfully. They teach us that great leaders should never have to shout at their subordinates, nor belittle them in any way.

Yet some of the most successful tech leaders in the world be it Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Travis Kalanick and Jeff Bezos are known to be precisely like that. They don’t shy away from putting people down if they don’t get what they need done. These leaders then inspire a whole breed of CEOs who all believe that they can treat their staff poorly but not just that… that it’s a necessity in order to get shit done. People have to fear you.

My confession here is that in my earlier years as a leader I totally drank the same Kool-Aid. I believed that I had to be strict, call people out for their mistakes in a mean way… and occasionally raise my voice on issues that I wanted to stress was important.

At the end of last year though I went through a very intense phase of self-reflection. I realised that I didn’t want to be an asshole CEO and I wanted to prove to myself that I could NOT be an asshole and still get results done. Colony was my first experiment of such a thing. Ask the founding team that was with me in my Nuffnang days if they had ever seen me shout or scream and they’d all nod like an Elvis Bobble Head on the dashboard of an SUV going through cross-road terrain.

Ask my team at Colony now though and I’m pretty confident they’d say that they have never seen me lose my temper and bang tables in the manner in which I had in my earlier days of Nuffnang. That’s not necessarily because things always go right. Heck no.. things often go wrong in the day to day of Colony too but I realize that freaking out on them… is a choice. I could choose to flip out of frustration and take it out on somebody, hopefully motivating that person (out of fear) to fix that problem asap. Or I could understand that problems we face is part of the journey of business and calmly address each problem.

When talking about this recently, I was asked the big question. “Great you can be NOT an asshole… but does shit get done?”.

My response was that I only ask you to look at the results.

Today few people would deny that Colony is one of the most beautiful co-working spaces in KL (if not the most). Despite being less than two months old, we’re one of the most well-known co-working spaces in town and recently JLL, one of the largest property firms in the world referred to Colony as a “major co-working space operator” in KL. The result of where we are today isn’t because of just me or my wife. It’s because of the team we work with… and we did it… without me having to be an asshole CEO.

That’s not to say that asshole CEOs don’t drive results. Some people just prefer that kind of management style and yes it works for some but comes with some pitfalls. People normally put up with asshole bosses if they have a lot of respect for that person. Which was probably why Steve Job’s or Elon Musk’s team stuck with them. Why? Because for all the bashing, these leaders they follow help them achieve things that they would never have thought of achieving on their own.

The respect that a team would have for an asshole boss remains only as long as that boss continues to be a star. Once that boss fails to achieve results, that respect wanes and people start wondering why the fuck they’re putting up with all this shit.

So I’m not saying that being an asshole boss doesn’t get you results. I’m saying that if you’re going to be an asshole boss… you better be inventing the next iPhone or Model S.

Because if you’re not… then you’re not Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. You’re just an asshole. 


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