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Steve Jobs’ best advice for managers

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On Wednesday, Apple's lead designer, Jony Ive, was promoted to Chief Design Officer. For some good analysis of the corporate politics behind the move and what it signals about Apple going forward, see Ben Thompson and Jon Gruber.

But it reminds me of one of my favorite Ive anecdotes, which comes from the New Yorker's lengthy profile of him. In it, Ive relays an argument he had with his late boss, Steve Jobs:

Jobs's taste for merciless criticism was notorious; Ive recalled that, years ago, after seeing colleagues crushed, he protested. Jobs replied, "Why would you be vague?," arguing that ambiguity was a form of selfishness: "You don't care about how they feel! You're being vain, you want them to like you." Ive was furious, but came to agree. "It's really demeaning to think that, in this deep desire to be liked, you've compromised giving clear, unambiguous feedback," he said.

You can take this insight too far, and if the stories about Jobs are any indication, he almost certainly did. But in trying to separate the tales of Jobs' brutality from his legendary effectiveness as a manager, this is probably a good place to start. Jobs was able to give his employees something many managers can't: clear feedback. And that's because he understood something that many managers don't: it's actually unpleasant to work for a manager who desperately wants to be liked: