A “jerk” is defined as a contemptibly obnoxious person. Sadly, there are too many jerks in management who seem to believe their position gives them permission to abuse, micromanage, continually criticize, demean, complain about, disrespect or intimidate others. The costs for such behavior are staggeringly far reaching. In this article, I’ll outline common behaviors of management jerks and suggested remedies, for curtailing their behavior. While anyone may temporarily veer off track and demonstrate “jerk” behaviors occasionally, the persistent offender—the manager who is known for it—needs to change or be “changed.”
Four Quick Openers on Management Jerks:
1. They are immature. They grow old, but they don’t ever seem to grow up. Their emotions control them, more than they manage their emotions.
2. They often resort to jerky behavior to disguise their limitations. Acting loud, obnoxiously, profanely, or disrespectfully can create diversions from limitations like incompetence, inexperience, ignorance or stupidity.
3. They have a corrupt understanding of what it means to be a leader. They expect to be served by others, rather than look for ways to serve others and add value to them. He or she believes that people are there for them, and doesn’t grasp that he or she is there for their people. They behave more like a tyrant than a leader.
4. Senior leaders who tolerate management jerks are spineless sell-outs who betray all those who suffer beside or under the jerk. They put their culture, team morale, momentum and results at risk because they don’t have either the skills or the guts to do their job and hold the jerk accountable.
Five Tendencies of Management Jerks:
1. They privately and publicly criticize, yell, demean and/or disrespect others. This behavior may also include off-color language, or getting personal.
2. Even when not engaging in egregious language like that in Point 1, management jerks tend to talk down to people. They are often short, sarcastic, and dismissive, and act as though everyone else is stupid or clueless.
3. They rarely give positive reinforcement. On the occasions when they do commend someone for doing a good job, they tend to balance it out with something the person did wrong, or must do better. “Joe, you did a nice job with that customer….but it doesn’t make up for failing to make the last three deals.”
4. Management jerks tend to be narcissistic in nature, and project a superior attitude that creates resentment and resistance in others. Those working for them work hard out of fear, not as a result of engagement or commitment.
5. Management jerks are prone to self-destruct over time. They wear out their welcome by abusing customers and employees, disrespecting other leaders, toxifying the culture, and more. Of course, in their mind it’s never “their fault.”
Five-Step Remedy for Managing Management Jerks:
1. Redefine, in writing, behaviors that are no longer acceptable and outline what you expect instead. Frankly, if you want great job performance you must define it and should have done so long ago. Be specific and give examples. Eliminate all loopholes and gray areas. Also make certain you explicitly explain to them the costs of their continued behavior: damage to morale, momentum, production, culture, brand, credibility, increased turnover and more. It’s important they see the big picture, and don’t just believe you’re nit-picking over “little” quirks in their personality.
2. Discuss possible consequences for continued errant behaviors. There is no one-size-fits-all consequence in this instance since there are such varying degrees of possible wrong behavior. Thus, point out potential consequences depending upon the offense.
3. Give immediate positive feedback on improved behavior. Whenever you’re trying to influence behavioral changes, you’ll need to reinforce it more often, and faster than in the past. Here’s why: behaviors that are reinforced and rewarded are behaviors that get repeated. But remember, the longer you wait to reinforce a behavior the less impact it has.
4. Secure help: resources, a course, a coach, and the like to help equip the manager with better tools and more awareness to manage more effectively. When we ask someone to improve behaviors or results, it’s essential that we resource those changes with tools and training.
5. Understand that you cannot change another human being in this regard. THEY must decide to change, and make the change. If after all the above steps are unsuccessful, demote, transfer, or remove the person. Demoting or transferring should involve moving the person into a position where they are humbled and are no longer in a capacity to abuse people—if such a slot is available—otherwise you should remove him or her. While the upfront costs of losing and replacing a manager can be high, the price you pay for keeping a management jerk is staggering in the long term. Bottom line: if someone wants to leave your organization because you expect them to live values they’re unwilling to live, let them go. It’s kind of like the trash taking itself out.