Leader Don’ts #1: be a Jerk

By | February 28, 2019

[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.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Leader Don’ts #1: be a Jerk

  1. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Another good article to start my day off. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield.

    1. Bryan Lee

      I was about to write the same. Looks like we are getting another series. These are great and I wish Gen Satterfield would compile them for us into a book format.

  2. Albert Ayer

    Workplace jerks are alive and well. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27% of respondents to a 2014 survey had current or previous experience with workplace bullying, while 72% were aware of workplace bullying incidents. Looks like there are different types; worth reviewing.

    1. Jonnie the Bart

      From an article I read someplace:
      “The Aggressive Jerk”
      This angry bully thrives on and excels at insults and name calling, Curry says. This type of bully isn’t concerned with keeping a low profile–they’re hard to miss because of their bombastic style. They’ll embarrass and humiliate you in front of others, and are often in a position of authority or have some other sort of power that allows them to do so

      1. Dennis Mathes

        Yeah! But it’s the spineless ones I really don’t like. The lesson, don’t be a jerk.

  3. Watson Bell

    We read and talk about how to overcome a jerk but the message today is to not be a jerk. I guess one of the first steps is to evaluate yourself. That is where an honest confidant comes in to help. It’s always good to have someone with a fresh eye and no skin in the game to give you input.

  4. Willie Shrumburger

    Determining why he is a Jerk:
    1. Ask the person.
    2. Think about his or her tone.
    3. Subtly ask around.
    4. Look at your own performance.
    5. Observe the jerk’s performance.
    6. Look at the type of work he or she does.
    7. Look into his or her home life respectfully.

  5. Greg Heyman

    Here is my main philosophy on dealing with a jerk. Don’t sink to their toxic level.

  6. Ronny Fisher

    I’ve been in the US Navy, college through a Masters Degree, and worked in business. If I had to say where I met the most jerks, it was in college. Why? I have no idea because I would have expected that the opposite would be true and that college would have the least.

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      If you’ve gone to colleges/univeristies lately, I am not too surprised. Higher education used to be a more gentlemanly environment.

    2. Eric Coda

      Right and the more you advance in education the more privileged attitudes you will encounter. This is what happens when you begin to let in less qualified people to teach.

  7. Army Captain

    Good article today, Gen Satterfield. I like the idea of a new mini-series on Leader Don’ts. Makes a lot of sense and worthwhile reading for those who need to learn what NOT TO DO.

  8. Andrew Dooley

    Yes, The Jerk was one of the funniest movies I ever saw. Kind of like Blazing Saddles. Lower form of humor! 🙂

    1. AutisticTechie

      LOL funny these two movies. Yes, I too like Steve Martin … comedy genius.

    2. Danny Burkholder

      Good movie but I’m not sure he was a “jerk” like Gen. Satterfield makes out in his article.

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