“Over my life, I’ve come to realize that the quantitative things (finance, operations, research, optimization), are easy. You can often hire people to do that. The hard part is the non-technical, soft stuff, like motivating and leading people.”
In this episode
In episode #7, Guy Kawasaki talks about his experience managing Apple’s evangelism team, the lessons he learned working with Steve Jobs, and the German concept of being a Mensch – and how it can help you identify great leaders.
Guy was one of the Apple employees originally responsible for marketing the Macintosh computer in the 1980s. During his time as Apple’s Chief Evangelist, he worked closely with Steve Jobs and popularized the concept of evangelism marketing.
Today, Guy is the Chief Evangelist of Canva, a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, and the author of more than ten books, including Wise Guy and The Art of the Start.
Tune in to hear all about Guy’s leadership philosophy!
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Guy’s first experience as a manager at Apple (managing Apple’s evangelism, developer tech support, developer documentation, and labelled software products).
Why managing people is a hard science (Guy’s misconception and how that changed over time).
The art of being a Mensch and why being a good role model for your team is imperative.
How to be a Mensch in action and identify this type of person in your company.
What was it like to work with Steve Jobs and grow as a manager in an environment like Apple?
The role of godfather figures in companies and how individual contributors can find one.
Guy’s advice and “mental framework” for employees looking to grow professionally and advance in any organization.
Hiring people who are better than you, not worse than you (and why some managers get this wrong).
Guy Kawasaki’s parting advice for managers and leaders: Keep presentations to under 10 slides, don’t email more than five paragraphs and suggest solutions for your boss’s problems.
Aydin Mirzaee 2:14
Guy, Welcome to the show.
Guy Kawasaki 2:15
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Aydin Mirzaee 2:17
Yeah, this is super exciting. Obviously big fan, I have read your book The Art of the Start, way back when it originally came out, and have been following you ever since. So this is a real pleasure for me.
You’ve obviously worked at a bunch of different companies, had experiences with investing and participating in advising many others, and come across many, many different managers and leaders everywhere.
One of the quotes that we found when looking at your background and your history was somewhere where you had said “when I finally got a management position, I found out how hard it is to lead and manage people”.
So the question that we were going to ask you is When was the first time that you became a manager? And what did you learn? What were some of the early mistakes that you made?
Guy Kawasaki 3:09
The first time I became a manager, it was in the jewelry business in Los Angeles. But that’s really not the experience I was referring to when I said that.
The first experience was at Apple when I managed the software product management group at Apple, this meant that I managed groups like evangelism, developer, tech support, developer documentation, and the Apple labelled software products. And the misconception I had in my life was that the leadership part is easy. And the hard stuff is finance and statistics and operations research and you know, the so-called quantitative things and what I’ve come to realize over my Life is that the quantitative things, finance, operations, research, optimization, all those kinds of things. That’s easy. You can often hire people to do that specialty. The hard part is the non-technical soft stuff, like motivating people, leading people, dealing with all the HR issues. That’s the hard stuff.
Aydin Mirzaee 4:27
Yeah, that makes sense. And I agree with you. I think like when I first started out, that’s the stuff that I was more curious about to learn those things. There’s like people that must be easy, and I agree. Why do you think that is so difficult, like what makes the people stuff actually hard?
Guy Kawasaki 4:46
Because people are hard to deal with. That just comes with the territory. Another reason to go to robotics.
Aydin Mirzaee 4:57
Guy Kawasaki 4:59
Yeah, it’s a soft fuzzy science. It’s not, you know exactly a science at all really?
Aydin Mirzaee 5:10
Yeah. Couldn’t agree more. The other question that we had for you just along, you know, the similar lines was, in your book The Art of the Start, you talked about this concept of being a mensch, and being a good role model for your team. If you don’t mind, can you explain to the audience, what dimension is, why is it important and how you can be one in the context of a leader.
Guy Kawasaki 5:38
A mensch is a German word. And it’s very difficult to describe, like many, many German words. So it has to do with trust, with faith, with generosity. Someone who takes the high road, someone who looks out for the greater good. Society’s good as opposed to personal good. And I think that over the course of your life, you should move from personal selfishness to mensch them, where you care more about society, and you care more about the bigger picture, then your own individual picture. And it often takes years to come to this point. And it often takes some level of success. Because if you’re literally starving, it’s hard to be a mensch.
Although you could make the case that if you’re a mensch when you’re starving, you truly are a mensch. But I think that it’s a very difficult thing because being a mensch is quite the opposite of what you start out your career doing. And it takes a transition and not everybody makes that transition.
Aydin Mirzaee 6:56
Right. And you think that, I mean it must have an impact on the quality of you know, if the leader in a company or on a team has mensch-like qualities, some of that must, you know basically seep through to the rest of the team. And can you think of an example of how you can see a mensch in action. When it comes to, you know, a decision or like a way that they behave How do we spot these people in real life in companies?
Guy Kawasaki 7:25
First of all, they’re very rare. I think that you know, when you see people who will subordinate their personal gain for the gain of the good, of the gain of the team or the company, that’s one sign. So is letting somebody else get the commission, letting somebody else get the sale. Realizing that you know, the world the sun doesn’t rise and set on your butt. That to be successful in a company, it’s the team behind you. Someone who treats his or her secretary administrative aide, you know, better doesn’t act like that person is a slave or an indentured servant.
Someone, I think a mensch, would treat people in the company that’s beneath him or her in terms of power or compensation or whatever, like peers. You know, if you go to a company, and you see that the managers treat the secretaries and the administrative aides, and the clerical helpers and the operator and the receptionist and the shipping department, as if they’re lower or less valuable forms of human beings. That’s a sure sign that that person or those people are not mensches.
I’ll give you some other (examples). Again, it’s very hard to describe what a mensch is. So, if you go to an airport, not that anybody is going to an airport, but if you go to an airport, and you see someone treating the, you know, when you go to check in for your seat at an airline counter, right, and you can see some people who treat them well, and you can see some people who just rip on them. And obviously, the people who rip on them are not mensches. And I would also say the people rip on anybody in an airline situation is pretty stupid. Because if you think about it, you’re ripping on somebody who could just by accident, put a luggage tag on your luggage that is sending your luggage to you know, I don’t know… sending it to Stuttgart when in fact you’re going to London. So Why would you pick that person off? And then you go into the airplane and you treated the flight attendant like crap. Like, why would you treat the flight attendant like crap? This is the person who’s preparing your food and drinks like what’s going through your mind thinking that you’re going to rip on this person and you know, I mean, this just stupid.. so that sign of mensch that you treat people who cannot necessarily do these big things for you, you’re not sucking up. It’s easy to suck up to someone who can do a big favor for you. That’s not the test. We’re meant to test for mensches. Do you treat well those who cannot do big things for you?
Aydin Mirzaee 10:50
Yeah, that makes sense. And you know, the other way that I interpret that is that if you’re looking to hire great managers and leaders into your company, it’s instructive to see basically how they act outside. And if you happen to go on a trip with them, and you witness their behavior with others, like that’s super instructive, and you’re sure to know that they’ll bring that behavior back into your company and then other people will learn from that and then it’s downhill from there.
Guy Kawasaki 11:17
Yeah, I would say, a real world situation is, let’s suppose that you are being recruited by a company and you go out to breakfast or lunch or dinner with your future boss or the recruiter or whatever. And, you know, you just treat the waiter or waitress like crap. That would be very stupid thing to do. Because if I were the hiring person, I would say okay, so this is how this candidate treats other people, you know, not for our company. I don’t care how well your resume is formatted. I don’t care what your LinkedIn profile looks like. I don’t care about anything if you treat a waiter or waitress like crap, not interested.
Aydin Mirzaee 12:06
Yeah, that’s great advice. And I think like, that’s why a lot of recruiters will take you out.
Guy Kawasaki 12:11
My daughter just walked in the room dressed in red looking like a strawberry here.
Aydin Mirzaee 12:17
That’s awesome. I love that. That’s cool.
Aydin Mirzaee 12:22
So I mean, all that to say is that it’s also a great way to -as opposed to interviews- take people out into natural places, natural environments and see how they behave.
Guy Kawasaki 12:32
Well. No, you know, just FYI, the flip is also true, which is to say, if you go out with someone who might be your boss, and your boss treats the waiter or waitress like crap, guess what? You’re next in line. So there should be a two-way judgement happening here.
Aydin Mirzaee 12:53
That’s true. That’s true. It’s a very valid point.
So switching gears for a second, I couldn’t have a conversation with you and not talk about Apple and Steve Jobs. Yeah. So had to ask you what was it like to grow up as a manager in an environment like Apple? And what was it like to work with Steve?
Guy Kawasaki 13:18
Well, working at Apple was like going to Disneyland every day. You know, we were out to dent the universe, change the world. Send IBM back to the typewriter business. It was a great adventure. Difficult, though. I will tell you that Steve Jobs has many things, but he wasn’t a mensch. And so basically, he just ripped people. And he ripped to people and he ruled by fear. But I have to say, in this rare circumstance, because it’s Steve Jobs, the one and only Steve Jobs, he ripped people and got away with it and it led to better results. So I just sort of contradicted everything I said, but I’m telling you that fear works as a motivating factor, if the person causing the fear is someone like Steve Jobs.
Now, that’s a very big caveat. Okay, so there are not many people who can fulfill what I just said. There are lots of people who can act like assholes. It’s the person who is visionary and has the passion and has, you know, all that stuff that’s going. Okay. But the asshole part is the easy part. Not the hard part. So I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. And I consider it an honor and a privilege to work for him. But it was not easy. And this is a very valuable lesson in life. That, I think when you look back, the teachers and the bosses who were the hardest on you, were probably the most valuable. As you’re going through an experience, you’re looking for the easy teacher, and the easy coach and the easy boss, but it may take 20 years and you’ll look back and say, yeah, you know, that English teacher who used to rip me? That’s the one I learned the most from.
Aydin Mirzaee 15:24
Interesting. Yeah, super! I guess there’s a positive side to everything. But also, it’s interesting because you can learn different things from different people. So you might not say that, you know, to mimic certain people management behaviors, but maybe other things or maybe holding people accountable can be one of the things that you could take away from a leader like that. And, you know, everybody has their strengths. And I suppose you just have to try and find those and learn those things from those people.
Guy Kawasaki 15:56
Aydin Mirzaee 15:58
The other thing which was an interesting one. And I think, you know, this question basically relates to people who are looking to advance their career and do good within their companies. You talked about this concept of a godfather-like figure,within every company, do you mind just explaining to the audience what you mean by Godfather-like figure? Why are they important and how you can learn from them?
Guy Kawasaki 16:25
So I think in many companies, especially older companies, not necessarily startups, that there’s the Godfather or maybe Godmother figure, who is established, powerful, and hopefully a mensch, that will mentor you, protect you.
I had a figure like this inside Apple. His name was Al Eisenstadt. And so, this is a very useful relationship to form. This person can help you navigate the treachery of most companies, can protect you, can make some battles unnecessary. So this, I can’t remember the movie, but there was a movie where there was this little scrawny kid and he had this really big friend. And that friend made things a lot easier for him. That’s kind of a godfather figure. Yeah.
Aydin Mirzaee 17:26
Yeah, that makes sense. You know, it’s interesting, you refer to it as the Godfather figure. There’s also this concept, building this concept of psychological safety. You know, the best managers out there will build psychological safety for their teams so they can take those risks. But I think it’s a very clever approach because you’re also referring to it as like if you don’t naturally have that maybe the right ways to go and create that for yourself by finding those kinds of figures within the company.
Guy Kawasaki 18:01
Having said that, it’s tricky, you know, when people listen to this podcast and they’re saying “oh, okay, so I gotta go find a godfather figure”. And then it’s not that easy. It’s not like if you listen to a podcast and the podcast is, you know, be sure to update your LinkedIn profile. Okay, now that’s a real actionable item you go and you, you bring your LinkedIn profile up to date, but “going to find a Godfather”.. first of all, there might not be a godfather in your startup. And, you know, it’s not as easy as “Oh, doh, I should find a godfather and, you know, Bada bing, Bada bang in a couple days you have one.” It’s not that easy. One, you just kind of be aware of the concept, I think, and go from there. Right.
Aydin Mirzaee 18:58
Yeah, and then there’s also just the concept of mimicking some of those, basically some of those characteristics so that your team feels safer to be able to take risks and you know, with risks can come outsize returns otherwise, everyone’s basically doing them the minimum possible and just doing what’s necessary to not get fired versus try and win.
Guy Kawasaki 19:22
Well, I would offer a better mental framework for any employee. So I think a better mental framework is people have to understand that their job is to make their boss look good. And many people just do not realize that. So they think that their job is to make themselves look good. But my theory is the way you advance in any organization is you make your boss look good. The reasoning that I’m gonna make myself look so good that I’m going to be promoted equal or greater than my boss is flawed, that never happens. So what you should do is try to make your boss look good. So as your boss progresses, you draft behind him or her. And at some point, you go to another company or you change departments or something, I understand that. But if people believe that their job is to make their boss look bad, and themselves look good, that is totally flawed reasoning.
Aydin Mirzaee 20:30
Yeah, that’s super, super valuable. But also it just relates to this concept of managing up which is, it’s fine to manage, but you also have to manage, which sometimes is more important, like you said.
Guy Kawasaki 20:44
I don’t know about ‘sometimes’, it’s always.
Aydin Mirzaee 20:49
So another thing speaking about things that may be always true. You’ve said that it’s very important to hire people who are better than you, not worse than you and people who have different skills, not the same skills. Because it’s you know, you don’t want to duplicate yourself you want to compliment yourself. Why is it that people -iit sounds like obvious information- but why do people always get it wrong? Like what do you think are the things that cause people not to hire in this way?
Guy Kawasaki 21:26
Probably the biggest factor is insecurity that many people want to feel like they are the best at the job. So, let’s start at the top. If you are a CEO, and you need finance, operations, marketing, production, customer service marketing, just go down the list of all your Cx and VP level people.
But if you think you are going to be better in each of those functional areas than the people you hire because you want to feel superior to them. You are a loser of a CEO. It should be a source of pride, that as a CEO, you’ve assembled a team that is better than you in every functional area. Because, so imagine this is my perfect scenario, right? So your are a CEO, and everybody in their functional area is better than you. And then those people have hired people better than them, in their functional area. So you have just a group of A+ and A players. And the second part of this fantasy is that you have this team of A and A+ players, and they all realize that their job, if you’re the comptroller working for the VP of finance and the VP of finance is better at finance than you are and the controller is better at finance in the VP of finance, but everybody realizes that their job is to make their boss look good. So the VP of finance is thinking, How can I make the CEO look good? And the controller’s thinking, How do I make the VP of finance look good? I’m telling you, you are going to have one hell of an excellent company.
Aydin Mirzaee 23:18
Got it. Yeah, that would be a spectacular place. How do you think about that, though, in relation to mentorship? So I guess like, with the mentorship wouldn’t come from the skill level or, you know,, how do you think about say the bottommost level, or the most junior level of that type of organization? If everybody is basically, the first level is the best in terms of skill, what is there to learn for some of those folks?
Guy Kawasaki 23:51
You got to clarify that for me. So when you say the first level, you mean the bottom of the barrel there?
Aydin Mirzaee 23:57
I mean, I wouldn’t have put it in those terms. But you know, my point is that so for example, like a director of finance, yeah. And who is superior in skill than their boss who might be the VP? Why would that person almost take that job? Why don’t they want to learn from someone who knows more and is better than them?
Guy Kawasaki 24:16
Okay? Because, let’s say the VP of finance, just stay with VP of finance, let’s not go up to the CEO level. So the VP of finance has a controller that is better at the controller functionality than the VP of Finance. Okay. So your question is, why would the controller who’s better at controllers function work for VP of finance was not as good? And the answer is that the VP of finance may not be as good in the controller function. But the VP of finance is better at raising money, is better at dealing with shareholders, is better at understanding the IPO process, is better at Sarbanes Oxley fulfilment, you know, there are other areas. So yes, the controller, let’s say the controller is responsible for opening and closing the books and you know, preparing the financial reports. So that’s that person’s expertise. And that person can open and close books and prepare for national reports better than the VP of Finance. Hallelujah. But the VP of finance knows how to take a company public, knows how to raise capital, knows how to deal with shareholders, knows how to manage the board of directors, knows how to fulfill, you know, the Sarbanes Oxley things. And so that’s why.
Aydin Mirzaee 25:41
Got it. So that, I guess goes back to the other part of what you were recommending for hiring which is don’t hire the same person. Don’t hire duplicates, hire complements.
Guy Kawasaki 25:50
Yes. And if everybody knew how to close the books? well, who’s gonna raise money? Who’s gonna take the company public in a company? To cut to the chase: Yes,
Aydin Mirzaee 26:01
Yeah. And I think this is valuable advice. And it may seem obvious, but I see so often that folks basically want just someone who is you know, going to be a door and just hire those people just to do like the verbatim that is told to them, rather than actually looking for people who are better than them at those particular functional areas.
Guy Kawasaki 26:23
Well, this but this is a deep psychological question. Is it better to draft the best overall athlete or the athlete that is perfectly suited for the position you have? and to continue the sports analogy, which is, you know, not always a good thing to do in business. So if you are the general manager of a football team, and this great all around athlete is available, but you need an offensive tackle. What do you draft? That’s a good question. That’s a very good question. Yeah. I don’t know the answer.
Aydin Mirzaee 27:09
I can argue both sides, I think.
Guy Kawasaki 27:11
Well, you could draft the best athlete and then maybe trade for an offensive tackle.
Aydin Mirzaee 27:17
That’s the master move right there.
So we’re getting close to time. I wanted to ask one last question, which is, for all those people out there that are looking to get better at managing teams and to be better leaders and to uplevel their career and and continue to progress in their skills. What would you recommend for them? Like what are some things that they should think about over the next year in the next five years?
Guy Kawasaki 27:51
First, they should ban any PowerPoint presentation over 10 slides that right there, you could be a great manager. So let’s see. Number one..
Aydin Mirzaee 28:00
That’s tactical number one, write that down.
Guy Kawasaki 28:05
Number two, you should ban any email over five paragraphs. Tactic number three is you should ban attachments in emails. Number four, you should…a good framework is that whenever you go see your boss, at whatever level, you always come with a solution, not a problem. That’s a high expectation. But you know, going back to the theory that your job is to make your boss look good. Then you don’t go to your boss saying, “Oh my god, the sky is falling”. You go to your boss and you say,” Oh my god, the sky is falling, but I have figured out how to get the sky back up”.
That’s what a boss wants to hear.
Aydin Mirzaee 29:03
I think bosses everywhere are smiling here right now. Like, please do that.
Guy, this has been great. Thank you so much. I learned a lot, so many so many words of wisdom. A lot of these will obviously reference in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for doing this. We really appreciate having you on the show. Thank you.
Guy Kawasaki 29:27
So can I plug something? I want people to subscribe to my podcast.
Aydin Mirzaee 29:34
Awesome. How did they get to it?
Guy Kawasaki 29:36
My podcast is called Remarkable People. And guess what? You go to https://guykawasaki.com/remarkable-people/ and there it is. And the purpose of listening to my podcast is to learn from remarkable people. And I truly do have remarkable people. So the guests have included Steve Wozniak, Andrew Yang, Margaret Atwood, Jane Goodall, Martha Stewart. Arianna Huffington, Leon Panetta, Sir Ken Robinson. So there this is,
Aydin Mirzaee 30:13
That’s a group of remarkable people.
Guy Kawasaki 30:15
Yeah, that’s just off the top of my head. And my perspective is that my job is to bring out the remarkableness in them. So this podcast is not about me, I do about 5% of the talking, and I let my guests 95% of the talking. It’s about them. So every time you listen to an episode of my podcast, I guarantee you that you will be a little bit more remarkable.
Aydin Mirzaee 30:47
That’s awesome. That’s a great pitch, remarkable people. We will make sure to promote that in the show notes, but also to our audience. I think all of our audience, they’re looking to get better. They’re looking to grow and what a great resource, we’ll make sure to include that in the show notes as well.
Guy Kawasaki 31:05
You know, I would do the same for you.
Aydin Mirzaee 31:07
Yes, of course. Yeah. No, that’s amazing. I look forward to subscribing myself too. Awesome. Thank you for doing that. Yes, you will check. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.