Avoid This Major Leadership Blunder That Got Steve Jobs Ousted From Apple
Play your cards right if you want to retain control of your company and remain a leader people can respect.
How would it feel to be fired by the company you started? It happens more often than one may think.
For example, what about the mastermind behind Apple who was eventually fired by the tech behemoth's board? Yes, Steve Jobs and his infamous rants and emotional explosions on fellow employees led him down the road to removal (and as most know, Jobs returned to Apple with a different approach and mindset that solidified his legacy on the "right" side of the company's history).
A more recent, lesser-known example is that of Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code. The founding premise of Bryant's business is just as its name implies: Black girls can code software just as well as anyone else. The company was launched so the girls could acquire skills to obtain good-paying jobs and establish careers. But Bryant, a self-admitted "perfectionist," was a demanding leader. Apparently, her leadership skills rubbed some employees the wrong way, and amid a list of complaints, she was removed from her role as CEO in early 2022.
Add to the list Better.com's CEO, Vishal Garg (who left when a video of his off-key mass layoff went viral — and whose return sparked a new exodus of employees). Also recently, Peloton founder John Foley was asked to step down as CEO to assume the role of executive chair.
Related: 5 Reasons Why Leaders Fail
What do these leaders seem to have in common? At some point, they embodied the emperor mindset — and it cost them much more than a demotion.
The Impostor vs. Emperor Syndrome
The impostor and the emperor are internal identities or personas of an entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs and business owners oscillate between each syndrome throughout their careers.
The Impostor Syndrome denotes a strong sense of self-doubt in accomplishments, skills and abilities. Those who experience this syndrome are certain they are losers and have fake-it-till-you-make-it beliefs. They avoid new opportunities because they fear failure and avoid relationships because they fear they will be exposed.
The Emperor Syndrome is the other side of the spectrum. The euphoria that accompanies it can make people believe they are superior. Entrepreneurs in its thrall actually believe they know more than anyone else. Entrepreneurs with Emperor Syndrome refuse to take advice from others and give advice only as dictation. Emperors need competition to prove their worthiness because they only care about themselves and their reputation.
When these identities seesaw within the same psyche, an entrepreneur becomes an unfit leader — one with whom the best workers often want little to do.
The oscillation and combination of personas costs money
Behaviors triggered by the Impostor or Emperor Syndrome will cost money — money that can put the company at risk. This is how it works: The Impostor feels undeserving of success. That belief triggers behaviors such as withdrawal, indecision and sometimes aggression. At the same time, the Emperor says that to win, we must teach others to fear us. The Emperor triggers a double-down reaction, perceiving non-believers as enemies who must be eliminated.
When an entrepreneur oscillates between both identities, they're likely to act out. This could manifest in a series of actions culminating in a scene that dominates the rumor mill for weeks — possibly even leaking to the press. This type of leadership disrupts employees' efforts to be productive and get along. By eliminating trust, it can swiftly destroy a company's culture. Few people enjoy working for an unhinged dictator.
Find the middle path instead
There is a better way than oscillating between the Impostor and the Emperor. We call this the "middle path" because it balances and refines the extremes of both personas.
The middle path is based on self-awareness and is a more certain and safer way to make money. Through self-awareness, an entrepreneur can observe his or her behaviors and learn to recognize when the Impostor or the Emperor begins to creep into his or her thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
As they get better at recognizing these dangerous emotional states, entrepreneurs gain the ability to backpedal and make better choices. Learning to recognize when these identities overtake their mindset is the byproduct of observing thoughts, feelings and behaviors over time. Reviewing the feedback will reveal a pattern, which shows how one person's mindset impacts other people, events and even his or her own success.
With practice, the beliefs and behaviors of the Impostor and Emperor are replaced by the mindset of the Explorer, who always searches for a better way of doing things to benefit the greater good and takes the behavioral lead in the development of the aligned mind.
Travel the middle path to an aligned mind
Having discovered and chosen the middle path, an entrepreneur will be able to make better decisions, attract great people who also value the middle path and scale the business to eliminate entrepreneurial poverty.
The irony in all of this is that to be successful, early entrepreneurs and business owners need to experience the Impostor and Emperor mindsets. In fact, the Impostor provides much-needed humility while the Emperor ushers in courage. Refining these two useful identities takes time, guidance and experience.
Don't fear the Impostor or the Emperor. Instead, develop the self-awareness that will enable you to find and travel the middle path toward an aligned mind — and, ultimately, success.
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