Is Your Boss a Jerk?

I’ve been following a thread of comments relating to a question about how to handle a boss who is a complete jerk. This boss is antagonizing, bullying, and generally manipulative. What surprised me about the comments was that most people seemed to think the answer was for the subordinate to just move on. Very few thought the subordinate should do much to try to improve this boss. Of those who did, most seemed to advocate a somewhat adversarial approach.

All these comments brought two questions to mind. First, what is the best way to deal with a boss who is a jerk? Second, how did that boss become a jerk in the first place?

It’s that second question that I believe really strikes to the heart of the matter. Granted, there are some people who are just jerks, and no amount of training, or intervention, or anything else is going to change them. But, I firmly believe those people are a small minority. The majority of bosses who fall in the jerk category are the victim of a poor training process. The root of that problem is that organizations tend to train entry and lower level leaders as managers, with little or no view towards their responsibility to lead. To illustrate, consider the example of a retail “manager,” something I’ve observed in more than one major retail company.

An employee is selected for promotion to a “management” position, such as a department manager or assistant store manager (key holder in some companies). The employee is trained in many aspects of the art and science of managing the store. They learn about inventory, stocking, store policies, the products, maybe customer service, and a host of other management tasks. They do not learn about human relations, needs and motivation, and effective communication; in a word, leadership.

As these new managers go forth with their new found knowledge, they find they have something else to manage, people. Unfortunately, no one told them how to do that. So, they manage the people in much the same way as they merchandise. Now, I realize this is a huge generalization and doesn’t take into account that many of these new managers have enough sense to treat people better than the stuff in aisle 4, but the lack of leadership training does put them at a disadvantage.

Since the company is looking at the bottom line, and many companies do not pay much attention to the effect of bad leadership on that bottom line, they reward managers who keep good inventory numbers and neat shelves with little regard for such skills as creating happy and effective workers, who by the way, are often the company’s face to the customer. The rewarded managers are promoted to even higher leadership positions and with those positions comes additional stress and without a good foundation of leadership training. Unfortunately, the leader doesn’t know how to handle it. He or she becomes a jerk.

What I found interesting in the comment thread mentioned previously is the large number of people who advised leaving the situation. That should be a significant wake up to companies who don’t want to spend time training young managers in leadership. Not too long ago, the employee who worked for a boss they considered a jerk, didn’t really feel they had much recourse. The whined to their spouse and friends about the situation, but that was about all they could do. A few might try to help the boss improve their skills, but that was usually ineffective. Now, employees who feel they’re in a bad situation will vote with their feet. Yes, the current economic situation may slow this down a little, but it won’t stop the trend in the long run.

So, is leadership training for those low level managers necessary? You be the judge. Are your employee’s bosses jerks?

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