Don Melton, best known for leading the Safari team at Apple, shared a couple entertaining anecdotes of encountering Steve Jobs. The story that intrigued me was Scott Forstall’s advice for meeting with Jobs. Aside from being just-plain-good advice for meeting with any busy executive, it hints at why Forstall was liked by his direct reports: he empowered, supported, and defended them.
Scott briefed me on what to expect and essentially how to behave during my first meeting with Steve and the subsequent reviews. And it was clear I would not be at a second meeting with Steve if I fucked up during the first one.
So I listened to Scott very carefully and took his most excellent advice. In retrospect, it should have been obvious. At least the general guidelines. But there were a few particulars I never would have thought of ahead of time.
Let me be clear. Steve was not some mercurial ogre or cartoon autocrat. He was just very, very busy. He didn’t have time for “yes men,” the easily frightened, or those who didn’t know what the fuck they were doing or talking about.
In that way, he wasn’t different from any other executive. At least those with good sense.
Steve expected excellence. Which is why he so often got it.
He knew when something was right, but he didn’t always tell you what he wanted when it wasn’t. And he was very clear when he didn’t like it. Some misinterpreted this behavior as being overly critical, but it was actually time-saving clarity, albeit uncomfortable on occasion.
Design was an iterative process with Steve. Which meant that it could take several sessions with him to complete that cycle. So patience was not just a virtue.
When Steve asked you a question? You didn’t ramble and, whatever you did, you didn’t make up an answer. If you didn’t know, you just said that you didn’t know. But then you told him when you’d have an answer. Again, this was just good advice to anyone “managing up,” as they say.
When demoing something to Steve, you had to pace yourself. If Steve said, “Stop,” you fucking stopped. Hands down and waited. And you didn’t jiggle the cursor while he was looking at the screen. Certain death.
If he wanted to drive the demo machine then, by God, you let him drive.
And if your software crashed, you didn’t make excuses. You just made damn sure that particular scenario didn’t happen again. Ever.
Most of all, you remained calm. Because that was so easy. Oh, yeah.
Anyway, the other thing Scott warned me about was that Steve might test me. Meaning that he might push me a bit to see what I would do. Sort of like a pitcher brushing back a batter with the high hard one. Fun.
In short: Be clear. Be calm. Be patient. Be prepared.