Jerks At Their Own Peril
Why Do Some Bosses Eat Their Young?
Are jerks bad leaders?
This question would seem to be a no-brainer and uncontroversial but it is not. Many brilliant jerks have been glorified throughout history– in business, in politics, in sports, in the military. The list is long. There’s no denying that some jerks are visionaries, great strategists, savvy tacticians or world-class innovators, pursuing their goals relentlessly and often keenly insightful about what to do and when. Yet their frequently punitive style, my-way-or-the-highway self-belief and inability to listen to others nevertheless classifies them as… jerks.
The problem is that, as bright and technically competent as jerk bosses can sometimes be, their noxious behavior precludes them from commanding real respect or getting buy-in from the people who work for them. Jerks depend on a top down approach, on barking orders and haranguing those who fall short of their expectations of perfection. The worst of them manipulate through fear.
But if you’re not in the army, or a rookie or an entry level employee on a bad team, then at some point in your career you may decide to vote with your feet and choose a different team and a management style more to your liking. That’s exactly what 4.5 million people did in November alone. That’s what the Great Reckoning is all about.
In a recent article on the topic of “jerks at work” The New York Times’ Emma Goldberg notes the hallmarks of jerk management: offensive language, an inability to listen or take feedback into account, and everybody’s favorite, blaming and shaming.
So in 2022, when employers are hemorrhaging talent for a variety of reasons and the pandemic continues to catalyze workplace discontent, people at every level are increasingly drawing the line at bad behavior from both bosses and peers-- whether it’s simple, repeated rudeness or outright discrimination.
Because of this, what have traditionally been considered soft skills, such as empathy, tact and awareness, are finally on the ascendant. They are taking their place alongside the hard skills of technical competence and measurable efficiencies that for so long have been considered the primary proof of managerial capacity.
It is these soft skills in fact— the focus on the way things are done as opposed to what is done— that increasingly define excellence in leadership today.
The insistence that managers and bosses exhibit soft skills is significant because it’s not the result of some guru sharing an epiphany in a Ted Talk or in The Harvard Business Review. Quite the contrary: the demand for soft skills is coming up from the bottom-- or rather from all sides. That is, from employees at every level.
Those 4.5 million people who left their jobs in November? They’re all looking for a better experience in the workplace. Which inevitably means a better boss, better colleagues, a more cohesive ambiance at work, an ethos you can really buy into. This is true whether you’re a greeter at a big box store, a nurse exhausted from dealing with COVID, or a Silicon Valley engineer.
In a punishing environment, which ours has certainly been for the last two years, people are demonstrating they will pick up and leave organizations that they perceive treat them with disrespect.
Hard skills are important, don’t get me wrong; knowing which strategy to deploy and when to deploy it is paramount to organizational survival. Strategy and tactics are the direct product of creative brainwork. But the ability to mobilize human beings behind those strategies and tactics is the work of an emotionally intelligent leader with an open heart.
In other words, it’s not work for a jerk.
People are speaking up, so watch this space. Things may change for the better even faster than we hope.