I just finished reading a biography of Steve Jobs, [called “iCon”] the charismatic co-founder of Apple Computers. He is able to attract top talent to any company he starts, and those computer engineers willingly work 90 hour weeks on his behalf. Yet, after he charms and attracts them with his vision of the future (often referred to as his “reality distortion field”), he is often abusive to those same employees, paying them poorly, taking credit for their work, and shunning them (even after many years of service) if they are critical or disloyal in any way.—Philosophy of Genetics blog, now defunct
This description reminds me uncannily of my mother, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, and her management style. In addition, she had the added perquisite of being the “messenger of god.” Staffers hung on her every word, got flustered if they thought she was coming to their department, would freak out wildly if she had to be put on hold, or was kept waiting in any way. They treated her with more fear than respect.
I witnessed dozens of people working 100-hour-weeks outside in Montana in the dead of winter during the construction of the bomb shelters, to meet “El Morya’s” deadlines. But she demanded this kind of loyalty also during Church conferences, or even if she just wanted to get a project completed quickly. She was often effusive with her praise under these conditions. But she was just as likely to be abusive, if something was slightly off, or even if she was just having a bad day. Even when people had done nothing physically wrong, she would often insist that a person’s “energy” was off, and proceed to blame them for anything that went awry. She called it a “blue-ray” whenever she gave anyone a tongue lashing. To her, it was more important to maintain utter discipline, (which she did by keeping people off-balance with fear), than to treat them as real flesh-and-blood human beings.
A particularly harsh example of this was Christmas of 1989, when a group of about a dozen men decided en masse to leave work early on Christmas Eve to spend the night with their wives, and then spent Christmas day with their families instead of attending the Christmas Church service. They were quickly summoned and hauled up in front of the entire community to be publicly humiliated. Many of these men had been in the community for years if not decades. They had proved their worth many times over. But their one act of desperation to see their families was met with a steely-cold response. I don’t recall the specific discipline they received. (If any readers were there, can you please help me out?) But the discipline was along the lines of even further reduced family time, and even harsher working conditions. Clearly, ECP’s point was to maintain control in the face of such a “mutiny.” No one could be perceived as having been allowed to have benefitted through their ‘insubordination.’
This is a textbook case of what happens when you combine the power of partial-reinforcement-conditioning at random intervals, with fervent religious belief. None of these men had any financial incentive to work that hard or put up with that level of abuse. They were largely working for room and board. Yet they accepted the discipline, and continued for many more years, to work the same inhuman hours.
It turns out the psychological mechanism that was behind this behavior is the same one that keeps people at gaming tables without sleep, and long after their bank accounts have been exhausted.
This should be a cautionary tale. Clearly, Jobs got his employees to produce something of tangible value, (and they get paid) while the CUT staff got nothing for their trouble. Still, I think true leadership involves motivation and inspiration, and does not rely on coercion or psychological manipulation. These strategies are used because they work in the short-term, and people put up with them. Jobs is considered a business hero by many. And countless other maverick-CEO’s throughout corporate America have this type of behavior reinforced by their “success.” Many are still considered to be great leaders, though they are mere bosses. And that, to me, argues for a sea-change in our perception of leadership.