Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Is Your Boss Really A Jerk Or Just Misunderstood?

Who among us has not worked at sometime during our career for a boss or supervisor whose style or temperament just rubbed us the completely wrong way? Whether you work for the "all-good-ideas-are-mine" type; the "you-can't-have-an-independent-thought-without-my-approval" type or the "clock watcher," your day at the office will be worse than it needs to be.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines "jerk" as an "annoyingly stupid or foolish person; an unlikable person; especially one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded". Robert Sutton, a Stanford University professor and one of the authors of, Hard Facts Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense; Profiting from Evidence Based Management, defines a "jerk" as "one who oppresses, humiliates, de-energizes or belittles a subordinate or a colleague, causing that person to feel worse about him or herself". Do these definitions really hold for your boss? No doubt some of us have these kinds of bosses; however, most bosses that we refer to as jerks are not really that way all the time and are certainly not in the majority.

So it leads to the question - Is it possible to have a boss who is not stupid or foolish; not cruel; not rude or small-minded who still is making your life at the office extremely stressful? I say - Yes.

Some of these behaviors from bosses I would consider an annoyance more so than "jerk" behavior are as follows:

1. The boss who watches the clock and thinks that work must only be done within the 9a to 5p time frame and wants you to account for every minute away from your desk during that time period. This person may actually not be mean or cruel, just uninformed about the way employees prefer to work today. Fortune Magazine is full of companies that offer flexibility of schedules. Maybe you need to educate your boss about this trend.

2. What about the boss whose self confidence is so low, that every new idea you present must be coupled with compliments about how wonderful or great he/she is? If your good ideas will move your career forward, you may just have to tolerate this until you can change departments. Do not let a boss with low self confidence kill your initiative and drive to succeed.

3. What about the boss whose fear of confrontation has him/her taking on all the work of clearly struggling employees, rather than addressing the issue or putting employee training in place? Getting HR involved might be one way to get around this kind of behavior.

4. What about the boss who does not want to showcase your good work, since it might bring too much attention to your department and think it is best when you stay off the corporate office radar? They are out there too. Finding ways to bubble up your ideas beyond your office is important here. One of the strategies I have seen that works is to put new ideas on the table when others, who will see it's value, are present.

5. What about the boss who has no life outside the office and expects you to stay late when he or she purposely delays work rather than go home - forgetting of course that you have a life outside the organization? Letting your boss know ahead of time is the best way to handle this. If you get the sense that this is the way the day is going to unfold, feel free to say what you will accomplish before leaving today and what you will pick up tomorrow.

6. What about the boss who plays favorites with employees and promotes trivial gains by one staff while overlooking significant contributions by others? With this kind of boss, it is imperative that you toot your own horn and record your own accomplishments. Make sure to get these contributions in your annual evaluations by creating your own Kudos file.

It is important that we be careful about how we label the people we work with. So before we call our boss a jerk, think about if someone might be labeling us incorrectly too.

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