Weekly Wrap: How Would You Fare If the FBI Dug Into Your Life?

If there is a single story that intrigued and amused me this week, it had to be the one about the file the FBI kept on the late Steve Jobs.

Yes, there was a file on Jobs. And yes, it had a collection of odd and occasionally unflattering stuff in it.

That’s how it is with an FBI file, because it usually contains both things you have personally told them as well as a collection of information that friends, former associates, and all sort of people who know you, worked with you, love you, and (maybe even) hate you have told them as well.

Would your life stand up to that kind of scrutiny? How would you fare if the FBI put together a file on you?

No new or real embarrassing revelations

Here’s the background on the Steve Jobs story, from the San Jose Mercury News:

He smoked pot and dropped LSD. He could be a pain to work with. He twisted the truth at times.

Yet according to a FBI background file released Thursday, Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs would still have made a fine presidential appointee.

The 1991 background check was conducted when President George H.W. Bush was considering Jobs for a spot on the President’s Export Council, a position he eventually held. And while the file contains little information about Jobs not already made public, the interviews conducted when Jobs first left Apple to start his own company provide a fresh and at times humorous sketch of the tech icon who died from cancer last fall.”

There are no terribly embarrassing revelations in what the FBI released about Steve Jobs. Most of the negative-sounding information is stuff that you can find in Walter Isaacson’s best selling biography of Jobs that was released last fall.

Still, it’s distressing to think that any of us could have a government file on us somewhere that permanently say things like the file on Steve Jobs said about him. Things like this:

One interview subject told the FBI about Jobs’ previous drug use and his tendency to “twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals.” Several interview subjects, all of whose names were redacted in the file, told agents that Jobs’ ethics could bend depending on the situation. One subject “characterized Mr. Jobs as a deceptive individual who is not completely forthright and honest.”

And in a clear nod to Jobs’ notorious arrogance in dealing with other people, two former Apple employees said he “has integrity as long as he gets his way.”

What you find turning over rocks

In reading all of this about Steve Jobs, I’m reminded of a job I once had at a publishing company where the CEO was fond of pulling together a specific department in the company for a lunch meeting with him. These were frequently called at the last minute, and usually, the purpose of the meeting wasn’t particularly clear to any of the attendees.

But I knew why the CEO called these meetings, and his purpose was simple: he wanted to get people talking, in a somewhat casual environment, in the hope that someone would spill the beans about some wrong-doing that was going on in the department under his nose.

There are a couple of problems with this approach, the biggest being the notion that there MUST ALWAYS be something wrong going on in each and every department that needs the CEO to get involved. That’s a terribly short-sighted viewpoint, of course, and not only is it wrong but it also shows an absolute distrust of the organization’s managers.

Every time we had one of these lunches, someone would accidentally say something that would reveal some “problem,” either real or imagined, that the CEO would immediately pounce on. Of course, it was usually the newest, greenest, and most inexperienced member of the department who would cough up this “revelation,” and most of the time, they didn’t have the faintest idea of what they were talking about because they were just too new to know any better.

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The result of their naïveté, however, was that the managers of this department, and sometimes, a number of the managers above them, had to scramble to handle this supposed issue that the CEO was now focused on. And all too frequently, someone lost their job as a result.

Life — and people — are complex

Yes, turn over enough rocks in the yard and you’ll find a lot of bad and icky stuff underneath.

And that’s the lesson of Steve Jobs’ FBI file. There are rocks with icky stuff under them in every person’s life, and no one in your workforce can withstand the kind of scrutiny and questioning that either the FBI — or my former CEO — would put you under.

This quote from the Mercury News story seemed to capture this the best:

The mixed feelings of admiration and contempt that many people felt about Jobs come through in the report. One Palo Alto man who identifies himself as a former “good friend” said that while Jobs was “basically an honest and trustworthy person, he is a very complex individual and his moral character is suspect.”

Yes, life is complex — and so are we. That’s something to keep in mind as you deal with YOUR workforce, and the rocks you sometimes turn over in THEIR lives.

Never should have added the boss on Facebook

Of course, there’s more than FBI files and turning over rocks in the news this week. Here are HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • When helicopter parents invade the workplace. What do you do if you are the HR person who gets a call from the parents of one of your young (but legal) adult employees wanting to talk about their child’s performance on the job? It’s a growing issue, according to this story on NPR. “With Millennial children now in their 20s, more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child’s behalf. … Margaret Fiester of SHRM says when it comes to parents acting as lobbyists, she’s heard it all — from parents calling to negotiate better salaries or vacation time for their kids to complaining when their child isn’t hired. “Surely you’ve overlooked these wonderful qualities that my child has,” Fiester says parents often tell her.”
  • Age vs. experience on the job. Is youth or experience more valuable in corporate decision-making? According to The Wall Street Journal, The “ascension (of young CEOs) is airing anew arguments about the value of youth in corporate decision-making. The debate typically pits the benefits of creativity and familiarity with emerging technologies against the need for disciplined decision making and experience dealing with hard times.”
  • Good-bye to Wal-Mart greeters. Here’s one job that is going away — sort of. The Dallas Morning News reports that, “Those who greet customers at the entrance of Wal-Mart stores nationwide are uneasy about a change in their duties. Greeters no longer staff the front doors during the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at the stores, and this month they were moved deeper into the stores to help shoppers find what they’re looking for and navigate the aisles. … Some greeters are not happy with the changes and have voiced concerns through OUR Walmart, an organization funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which has tried to organize bargaining units representing Wal-Mart Stores workers.”
  • Never should have added my boss on Facebook. Here’s a great video from award-winning performance management and HR software maker Sonar6 that’s gets into this very relevant (and important) topic.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


1 Comment on “Weekly Wrap: How Would You Fare If the FBI Dug Into Your Life?

  1. Great observations John.  Now, if you blindly gave a hiring manager this background check, how many do you think would have passed on Jobs?  In this case, it would have been the worst hiring mistake known to mankind:) 

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