Business Brains

Another sound business reason not to be a jerk at the office

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In my parents' household, the word "jerk" was a pretty damning insult and about the worst noun I was allowed to use when describing someone who have b...

In my parents' household, the word "jerk" was a pretty damning insult and about the worst noun I was allowed to use when describing someone who have behaved badly. It just wasn't a polite term. So I got a big kick out of this post over on the Harvard Business Review blog site entitled "Why Jerks are Bad Decision-Makers."

The basic premise of this essay by Babson College's Tom Davenport is that jerks tend to be possessed of two characteristics that make collaboration in a business setting -- and as a result good decision-making -- very tough:

  1. A tendency to demand subservience from those around him or her.
  2. A certain blindness to his or her own weaknesses.

Davenport cites several examples of where a CEO or manager's personality got in the way of getting the right people involved to make the right decisions. Among them, the AIG debacle, the fall of Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers. All three downfalls, Davenport contends, were attributable to the generally jerky behavior by the CEOs.

I find this all especially ironic, because when I ran a staff of 60 or so editors and artists, I was once told that I was too "nice" to be a manager, mainly because I tended to treat them as equals who had something worthwhile to say/contribute and not as people to be "bossed" around. I fully admit that at times I wasn't hard enough on certain poor performers and was oblivious to certain politics that a more jaded individual might have sense, but I never could quite wrap my head around the idea that in order to keep advancing I needed to be some cutthroat individual. And certainly I am way from perfect: I definitely have been known on occasion to let moodiness get in the way of a good work environment.

Note to everyone I ever dissed for no apparent reason: I am sorry.

Note to the jerk who once said I didn't put the fear of God in my staff: Thanks for the compliment.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure