Your boss is a jerk, right? It’s pretty likely you’ve told someone this or you’ve at least thought it. In an informal survey of people I’ve met in my seminars, on planes and at dinner parties over the last 20 years: out of four workers I’ve met has repeated the same refrain: “My boss is a jerk.”
Could it be true that 25% of the population is working for a jerk?
The last two times I heard someone say it, I was in my office during job interviews. Typically, after the candidate gets comfortable talking about their aspirations, their achievements and their experience, I ask a pretty predictable question.
Why are you leaving your current job?
Leaning forward in a kind of it’s-just-us-here posture, these two candidates told me about this jerk they each work for. Different interviews, people from two different companies, but apparently they work for twin jerks.
Are you working for a jerk?
The same topic came up with one of my executive coaching clients. He’s working with me on how to improve his communication skills.
He said, “I may be a jerk.” After all, he explained, I am the boss. That means my life is at the mercy of people who work for me. At some level, I absorb every single mistake that every single person in my entire organization makes. I absorb the financial losses when orders are returned or orders aren’t taken, the stress of losing clients who are underserved, the distress of employees who are angry with one another, the fury of managers who see their subordinates waste a good part of the day gossiping or trolling the web, and the loss of talent because so much of our training and development walks out the door when a slightly better offer turns the head of someone we’ve invested in.
No wonder the guy is a jerk, albeit a good-hearted, well-meaning, hardworking fellow who provides jobs for over a hundred people. His rent alone would make you a jerk, if that’s what you woke up to every morning.
Maybe you don’t work for the CEO. Maybe you work for a junior executive, a department head or someone with “supervisor” in their title. Maybe you’re micromanaged, your best ideas are turned down, and your request for a raise has been denied.
I understand your impulse to name call, but when something happens that seems unfair to you, or even when you are put off, are you really qualified to feel jerked around?
What would change if you could relate to your boss as a person? If you felt empathy for your superior? It occurs to me that in all the trainings I have conducted, I have never been asked to train employees to act or think with empathy for their bosses.
We have to do a better job of educating employees on this, because it would improve so much of what’s wrong in the workplace. We must explain that sometimes you simply need to do what you are asked. That you must remember to follow instructions, if for no other reason than your boss will be a jerk when you don’t. We have to help you understand your boss has pressure that you might not see. That your boss typically has a larger picture of the work, than just what you’re assigned to do. And, we have to help you see, no disrespect intended, that you have perhaps less than all the knowledge, experience, goals, and responsibilities of those above you.