Anyone who knows much about the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs knows he could really throw a tantrum. He also told employees all the time that their work sucked and even close colleagues would get verbally pounded by him.
Yes, he was a brilliant creator of technology products and a charismatic pitch man, but oh my, what a jerk.
In their book "Becoming Steve Jobs," veteran technology journalists Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli write that this description best fits the Jobs of the 1980s, a guy who both created the groundbreaking Apple Macintosh computer and then got pushed out of Apple.
The Jobs they knew, the leader of a company that gave us the iPod and the iPhone, had improbably developed himself into an effective manager and leader. Schlender observed Jobs at close range for 25 years, and he and Tetzeli write that Jobs was a "learning machine."
That single observation makes their book a refreshing look at a business leader many of us think we know. Our problem is that most of us only really learned the myth of Jobs as another prodigy, a Mozart of business whose extraordinary gifts led to success.
That isn't the way it usually works, and it didn't work that way for Jobs.
Most of the best entrepreneurs seem to get that. Their careers as entrepreneurs last a single day, the day the company is founded. Their careers as business managers start the following morning.
The authors don't claim that Jobs ever became an easy boss to work for. But they do make a convincing case that during a long period and between his early triumph at Apple and his return to Apple a dozen years later, Jobs became a grown-up manager.
In the story they tell, the young Jobs wasn't just a jerk, he was an incompetent one. After getting tossed out of Apple, he started a company called NeXT with plans to build the world's next great computer. He didn't come close.
He later acquired a company called Pixar from film director George Lucas with a dream of selling computers and software to customers to work on 3-D computer graphics. He barely sold any and lost much of his personal fortune trying. While Pixar would later succeed famously as a producer of animated films, Jobs didn't buy the company to make movies.
As the authors write, however, Pixar was one of the places he learned how to be a manager. Here he had bought a company with a healthy culture already in place, and with good leadership in CEO Ed Catmull.
One of Catmull's strategies for managing his mercurial new owner was to keep Jobs out of Pixar's offices. He had good reason for doing so, for Jobs early on at Pixar still had no idea how to behave in meetings.
As Catmull later described, though, Jobs would sometimes come to him after a meeting, puzzled that his withering criticism had so upset the staff. That's when Catmull realized that Jobs wasn't mean; he just didn't seem to know how to talk to creative people.
When Apple, in crisis, later turned to him as CEO, the news caused his competitor Michael Dell to suggest that Apple should just shut down.
The lack of confidence in Jobs wasn't because he was no longer a prominent figure in the tech world. He was known all too well — for being erratic, undisciplined and petulant. And with the shape Apple was in, reviving it would've been a challenge for the most skilled executive.
But it turned out he knew what to do. The younger Jobs was interested only in building great products and assumed he knew best how to do that. The middle-aged Jobs had learned that the only way to build great products was by first building a great company. He knew it would take years.
By then, he had learned to trust creative people without his form of micromanagement, and he collected a small team of all-stars to lead Apple's rebirth. These were executives skilled enough to succeed at the highest level and confident enough personally to stand up to Jobs.
As momentum built at Apple, Jobs spent more of his time on marketing and product design, where he had the most to add. He was deeply involved in the development of the first Apple retail store, which provides another interesting snapshot of the way Jobs had learned to work.
After months of development, the prototype store was ready for final review. And in the car driving over to see it, Apple's retail chief, Ron Johnson, explained to Jobs that he had just concluded that their store design was all wrong. It should've been laid out around the way a customer would use the products, not by product type.
This wasn't good news, and Jobs reacted angrily at what could be a long delay. When they arrived at the store, Jobs calmly told the group working on the project that Johnson had just explained in the car that the store design was wrong, and that Johnson was clearly right. He then left the meeting so they could get to work.
This isn't the way the Steve Jobs of legend would've handled a disappointment like this. He had the same personality traits he always had, just by then he'd figured out how to keep the worst of them from completely derailing an important project.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, both a rival and friend of Jobs, explained to the authors of "Becoming Steve Jobs" that many people looking back at the career of Jobs for some sort of key to success misunderstand what Jobs did and how hard it was.
Imitators of Jobs seem to all really know how act like a jerk, Gates said, but "what they're missing is the genius part."
It was a genius that took years to fully flower.