Good vs. Bad 'A--holes'
To longtime Apple engineer Tony Fadell, there are two types of "a--holes": Good and Bad.
It’s 10 a.m. on Tuesday, and John is steaming.
He has a Zoom meeting with an important client in 15 minutes, but there’s no charger set up in the conference room, no laptop stand, no headset in place, and one of the lights is out.
So he barges into the IT department to vent his frustrations.
“This is why I make double what you idiots do and why none of you morons are going anywhere in life,” he tells them.
John is what longtime Apple engineer Tony Fadell would consider a “bad a--hole.”
“A lot of times, when you see a--holes, it’s about them, their ego and their self-centeredness,” Fadell recently said on The Tim Ferriss Show. “Are they literally degrading you, are they making you feel less, are they pushing you down so they feel better?"
But Fadell also said not all "a--holes" can be grouped together.
There are good ones as well — and the key distinction lies in motivation.
To Fadell, “bad a--holes”:
• Offend people
• Make frustrations and complaints exceptionally personal
• Challenge team members, but in a way that makes it about the larger mission
• Push individuals to do their best work without hurling insults
• Motivate the team to aim higher
• Are largely inspired by improving the overall product
Instead of personalizing his gripes, John could've joined the second group by making clear that the present conference room arrangement was not the best work of the department, insisted that it be arranged to the usual standards, and reiterated the importance of these meetings to the company as a whole.
Fadell said team members may lament the heavy demands of the "good a--hole" in the short term, but frequently develop a new perspective over time.
“Years, weeks, months later, they go, ‘My God, that was an amazing experience and yes it sucked and yes it was hard, but I did the best work I possibly could, and it was in service of our mission,’” Fadell said.
“That’s what matters.”