How to Not be a Jerk

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7 Tips For Making Sure You’re Not A Jerk

He was a total jerk. Mr. M. was grouchy, grumpy, surly, and he treated his team with a high level of disrespect. I was “lucky” enough to be on his illustrious team. We were meeting, and I thought it was going well. Then, out of nowhere, he got angry, stated yelling and screaming, (including some words that can’t be printed) and then threw all of the files we were reviewing on the ground and stormed out of the building. I was in total shock, and I had never seen anyone act that way in a professional environment.

He returned an hour later and had calmed down. He came to my office and I was under the crazy impression that he came to apologize. That is when I learned that not all expectations get met. He looked around for a few moments, not saying a word. Finally, he said, “I know I yelled at you, Doyle,” (he always called everyone by their last name) “but I’m not apologizing. I am the way I am and that is the bottom line.” “Okay,” I replied, not even bothering to look up from my desk. “Don’t then.” He said he didn’t intend to and then walked out.

An hour later, he was back to acting human again. A few months later I left the company and they were surprised that I was leaving. I told them I wasn’t leaving the company, I was leaving Mr. M.

It is amazing that companies allow jerks to be in leadership positions. Even worse, in some business publications we see “difficult” executives lauded for their tough personalities and ability to get results. Yes, there may be results, but look more closely at some other metrics at the company. How about morale? How about turnover? Turnover is an element that can cost a company a fortune in hidden costs.

Do You Suspect You Might Be A Jerk?

If so, here are some tips and techniques for making sure that you aren’t a jerk.

How To Not Be A Jerk Tip #1

Always treat people with respect.

This means no yelling, no hostility, and no name calling. Leaders should always treat people civilly. In fact, it’s ridiculous that I have to write this tip at all. Isn’t that common sense? No, it’s not at all. In fact, I’m constantly hearing stories from people about how their boss has reached a new level of jerkiness.

I once worked for a company where all employees were called by their first names, but not managers. All managers were referred to by “Mr.” or “Mrs.”! Does that show that the company respects their employees? No.

How To Not Be A Jerk Tip #2

Create work spaces that are respectful of the employees, making them feel like coming to work.

I once was visiting a call center where employees were saying how much better the new place was than the old one. You’re probably wondering the same thing that I was – what was so bad about the old workplace? I asked and they said, during the winter, rats used to run across their feet while they were at their desk. What kind of leader allows this to happen? What message does this send?

Work places need to be clean, warm in winter and cool in summer. They can’t have peeling paint or filthy carpet. I am not saying that the office or work space needs to be the Taj Mahal, it just needs to be livable.

How To Not Be A Jerk  Tip #3

Talk to people who report to you.

Say good morning, say hello. Stop and see how things are going. Sounds insane, doesn’t it?

I once worked for a company where a senior level executive would walk into our department and breeze past five or six people. She would never say a word or do anything to otherwise acknowledge their existence. Once she left, I had my team coming to me asking, “Why can’t she just say hello? I mean, we work our butts off. What are we, invisible?” They were, of course, insulted.

I see leaders who will come into a workplace, go to their office, leave at the end of the day, and never actually speak to anyone – unless they need something. That is a very callous thing to do.

How To Not Be A Jerk Tip #4

Acknowledge and reward people’s efforts.

So many times, we take people for granted, not giving them credit or even a simple “thank you” for a job well done. Compliments are free, people! They don’t have to be put into the budget. People need, and want, feedback.

I once worked for a manager who never gave positive feedback. Finally reaching a high level of frustration, I sat down to talk and told him that it was important for me to get feedback. His response? “I am not going to give you a compliment for something you’re supposed to be doing anyway. It’s your job.” Nice. Put that one in the book of great leadership practices.

Be a good leader and give people credit for the work that they do. I once created a comprehensive one-day training program, and my boss went to present it. He prominently displayed his name on the front cover of the program. Where was my name? It wasn’t anywhere on the program. Not even in small type on the inside cover. I received no credit whatsoever. I got more credit from Visa than from my own boss.

How To Not Be A Jerk Tip #5

Be aware of people’s time and respect it.

Yes, there are emergencies that come up. There are times when people have to come in early or work late. When it’s done all the time, it becomes a grind that shows lack of appreciation.

I have heard many stories of leaders coming to someone’s office at the end of the day and saying, “Something came up, and we need to have you stay late to get it done tonight.” When the employee says that they have plans, the pressure from the boss starts. The employee feels painted into a corner and relents, again. The boss is asking at the end of the day if the employee can stay late, without notice or a “heads-up”. When this becomes common practice, it‘s incredibly disrespectful and earns a leader a fine title of “jerk”.

How To Not Be A Jerk Tip #6

Always reprimand privately.

I was at a team meeting with ten people and someone was talking about a conference they attended. The leader asked pointedly, “Why did you go to that conference?” After a game of twenty questions, the leader said, “Well that was clearly a huge waste of money and time. Don’t ever do that again.” This was all said through clenched teeth, with a raised voice and an angry look.

Two things happened at that point. First, the person being called on the carpet was quite embarrassed to be crucified in public, and second, the energy was sucked from the room, replaced by a sense of tension and negativity. Coaching and counseling should always be done in private. It should always be about the project or the behavior, not the person. It should always be calm, objective, and without emotion, unless it’s a positive one. It should never be positioned as an attack. That is what jerks do, and you aren’t a jerk, are you?

How To Not Be A Jerk Tip #7

Lastly and most importantly, try not to be the “big shot”.

I see the disease of “egotis giantitis” (giant ego syndrome) throughout corporate America. A leadership position doesn’t make you more important, better, or smarter. The position makes you a leader, and it’s high time to start acting like one.

Do You Have A Tip To Share?

If you have a tip that you’d like to share, please leave it in the comments below. Thank you!

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