Friday, April 28, 2006

Lessons from Jerks

If you’ve ever wondered how jerks can hold jobs and even thrive, it may be that you’ve overlooked their virtues.

Virtues?

Ah, yes. These unusually irritating persons often possess qualities that make them very successful strivers and office politicians. For example:

They know how and when to keep a low profile. They don’t take bold, principled stands that can sink careers or send the virtuous to Siberia. They duck and cover when career-ending decisions are to be made.

They are almost incapable of being embarrassed. They bounce back from setbacks that would send the rest of us to bed for several days. They are willing to be obnoxious until they get what they want. They know the power that comes with caring less.

They drive off their competition. Who wants to work with jerks? Sharp people flee the organizations that tolerate them and consequently abandon the field to the less capable.

They do what is needed and no more. That sounds like a formula for failure but often, that is all that is desired. Achievers can be threats to those who hand out the choice assignments. Weak people choose weak subordinates.
Jerks make great lackeys.

They socialize. When there is a company event, they don't scurry home to their families. They’re there nursing drinks and stroking egos until the last boss has departed.

They usually do one thing well. And that one thing can gain them a company-wide, perhaps industry-wide, reputation. Consequently, they may be highly regarded...by people who don’t have to work with them.

They are good old boys or gals. At least to upper management. Their strategy is kiss up and kick down.

They seek comfort, not excellence. If you seek excellence, you tend to promote change, and change has its enemies. Promotions often go to the person who has made the fewest enemies in upper management. And you know who that is.

They let upper management know about their accomplishments. They advertise every minor accomplishment while those schmoes who believe that hard work is its own reward don’t. Guess who has the better public relations program. Other employees may have accomplished far more, but if no one knows about it, how much does it count?

People underestimate them. Some jerks have a bad reputation throughout the organization. They are what the Russians would call a summer fool. They walk in the door and people immediately say, "There is a fool." They are quickly exiled or diminished. The more formidable jerks, however, are winter fools. They have to remove their hats, galoshes, heavy jackets, and sweaters before anyone notices they are fools. Their flaws are sufficiently hidden and they take care not to reveal their true personalities around the top brass.

Co-workers who think the vices are impossible to overlook don’t see what upper management sees. As a result, they underestimate their jerkish rivals and suffer the consequences.

Are the above items unusual? In many organizations, yes. But they are frequent enough that many of you have probably seen such examples in your own careers. The jerks are out there and they aren't stuck in one pay grade.


3 Comments:

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Sandy Kristin Piderit said...

Great post! The point you make that most resonates with my experience is this one:

"They let upper management know about their accomplishments. They advertise every minor accomplishment while those schmoes who believe that hard work is its own reward don’t. Guess who has the better public relations program. Other employees may have accomplished far more, but if no one knows about it, how much does it count?"

For my undergraduates, learning that some self-promotion is legitimate, and will not make them appear as a jerk to all their peers, is a very challenging lesson. Here in the Midwest, the belief that hard work is its own reward is very deeply entrenched, and difficult to overcome.

 
At 1:25 PM, Blogger Michael Wade said...

Sandy,

That's a very interesting point. Homilies that we grew up with can be extremely hard to shake off. All things require a zen-like balance. No one likes the shameless self-promoter but the recluse's virtues are seldom recognized. As you've noted, the challenge is finding the middle ground.

 
At 9:25 PM, Blogger the rantolotl said...

I once lived with someone exactly like this. It was terrible. These people are exactly the same at home. *shudder*

 

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