How to Not Be a Jerk Boss

Bosses are merely human. A little more likely to be male, to be older, to be a “D” (Decisive) on the DISC profile. But no more or less virtuous than the rest of humanity.

Which is exactly why they should be held to a much higher standard.

We Need a Double Standard for Bosses

I believe a lot of bosses deserve to be disliked. We should all have a double standard when it comes to people in power.

To quote Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility.

Leading and growing managers is a huge responsibility, and a glorious one. You greatly influence whether dozens or hundreds of workers go home each day happy and fulfilled –or baffled, enraged, beat down and burnt out. You’ll influence their career trajectories as well — all based on how you grow their direct managers.

Consider the toxic combination of (a) having power and (b) being a jerk.

If you’re a jerk and you’re merely my co-worker, then the worst I have to handle is tolerating you, maybe doing some extra work to backfill your errors and omissions.  Unless you’re actually malicious, your dysfunctions don’t harm me much.  If I’m clever, I can even use your jerkiness to look better by comparison.

If you’re a jerk and you’re my subordinate, odds are you hide your jerkiness from me. Your dysfunctions don’t harm me much. If your jerkiness harms the team, I can use my positional power to provide very strong incentives for you to modify your behavior. If I have to, to protect the team, I can fire you.

But.  If you’re a jerk and are my boss, odds are I hide my unhappiness from you.  Your dysfunctions could harm me quite a bit, and if they do, my only real option may be to quit.

An enormous part of voluntary turnover is caused by people “firing their boss.” (See Gallup infographic nearby.)

Why People Change Jobs (Gallup)

How to Not Be a Jerk Boss

Whether you’re a CEO or a front line supervisor, when you’re a boss, your primary job is making other people more and more effective.

You measure your effectiveness by your results and your retention. You increase both results and retention by growing your people.

You do that several ways:

  1. Grow Their Self-Awareness
  2. Grow Their Emotional Maturity
  3. Grow Their Loyalty
  4. Demand Excellence
  5. Push Them to Grow Their Own Strengths

You’ll quickly find that, before you can lead others, you need to lead yourself.

Yes, you will need to grow your own self-awareness and your own emotional maturity. It’s been said that the number one cause of the death of an executive’s career as a lack of self-awareness. It’s been repeatedly demonstrated that emotional intelligence and emotional maturity are the number one predictor of executive success.

Once you have made some progress on to self-awareness social intelligence, you’re ready to move forward.

Here are the top two steps to avoid being a jerk boss:

Step One: Career Growth

Insist that each person reporting (i.e. your “directs”) to you have a career path plan and be working on their own career growth. Check in with them on this each week for five minutes at the end of your weekly one-on-one.

This first step will over time increase their earnings.

Step Two: Job Fit

Ask each direct to bring a list of their top 10 job duties — this can be scribbled on a napkin in 15 minutes — and rate each one with (a) how important it is for the company, (b) how good they are at it, (c) how much they enjoy it, (d) how much time they spend on it each week. Work with them to re-arrange or re-define their job to fit their strengths and joy.

This second step will both improve their job fit, and increase their results, which can be used to both argue for and pay for a pay raise.

Notice that we’ve now addressed the top 73% of reasons why your directs might fire you as their boss.

Pass It On Down

Now that you have lead by example, any of your directs who is a boss for others should repeat these two steps with the people reporting to them.

Moral: Don’t hate bosses.  Do hold the boss (including yourself) to a higher standard.

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