[February 28, 2019] Actor Steve Martin is one of my favorite comedians. Back in 1979, he starred in a slapstick comedy called The Jerk. It’s about an idiotic man who struggles to make it through life on his own. Definitely non-politically correct today, it’s the type of absurdist entertainment Americans loved so much. Watch the trailer here for a good laugh (see link).
A few weeks ago I was asked to begin a series on the sort of things a leader should NOT do. We learn so much from the mistakes of others that I decided this idea couldn’t come at a better time. With American politicians making fools of themselves before the public, the amount of material for any article would be like a cornucopia to a starving person.
Psychologists have recognized for a long time that one of the primary responsibilities of parenting is to teach children how to be likeable. That’s right; likeable, so that they can function socially and emotionally. We’ve all witnessed the result of failed parenting when we meet a jerk. Instantly recognizable, a jerk can cause you problems. Why can’t jerks be just like everyone else?
Before visiting neighborhood friends and family, my mother would look me in the eye and say, “Douglas, be a good boy and remember your manners.” In her own way, she was saying Douglas, don’t be a jerk. She would also say “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” I remembered and did what I could to never be one of those jerks.
In my experience, jerks are just one log shy of finishing a narcissistic cabin. Jerks are selfish, manipulative, and see other people as a stepping stone to get what they want. Jerk-like bosses are those that give you unreasonable deadlines, insufficient resources, treat you with disrespect, and verbally abuse others. Yet, they expect you to get the job done anyway and will blame you for their failures.
There is plenty of advice out there on how to handle a jerk (see examples here, here, and here) so I won’t go into that here. What’s important is that as an aspiring leader, you don’t get trapped into such behavior yourself. Learn from the mistakes of others. Even jerks can teach you some great lessons of leadership.
The lesson? Good leadership means not being be a jerk. The resulting risks are liable to crop up unexpectedly, at the most inopportune time, and the consequences can be devastating. That is a forced error no one wants.