“B” Players? Here’s Why Steve Jobs Was Completely Wrong About Them

During the last few months, one of the top books on the bestseller lists has been the Steve Jobs autobiography.

It’s a fascinating read and doesn’t hold back on both the genius of Steve Jobs as well as his less attractive personality traits and leadership style.

An excellent summary of the latter recently appeared in Strategy+Business, highlighting how Jobs’ reputation as leader was both highly effective at generating great work out of teams, but highly damaging to members of those teams personally. The article points out:

When it came to teamwork, Jobs had a highly effective modus operandi with a dark side. He always challenged teams — from those involved in the early product efforts led by Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak onward — to reach beyond the possible. A few strong people thrived on this, rising to become top performers who were highly motivated by the pride they derived from striving to meet the challenge.

But many others were needlessly frustrated. The price a leader pays for such behavior is the loss of people who need more encouragement along the way. Such an approach also undermines the emotional commitment of B players, who in most enterprises constitute more than triple the organizational teaming capacity of A players.”

“B” players are the bulk of your workforce

Too often, I hear “Who needs the B players?” This is a very short-sighted comment, because in even the strongest team, there are always B players, just as there are always those who are clearly the top performers.

Yes, Apple has delivered wonderful products that have changed the face of consumer technology, but think how much more might have been achieved without the loss of talented people who simply could not put up with the “needless frustration.”

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Every organization has a bell curve of performance for their employees with the vast 80 percent in the middle representing your “B” players. These are the people who grind out the work that makes it possible for your stars to shine.

What are you doing to celebrate, encourage and support your B players?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is senior vice president of client strategy and consulting at Workhuman, where he leads the company’s consulting and analytics divisions. His writing is regularly featured across major HR publications, including HR Magazine, Human Resource Executive, HR Zone, and Workspan.