#36 Can a Jerk Be a Successful Manager?

by Steven Cerri on September 11, 2007

How bad can we be and still be good?

So here’s the question… can a jerk still be a successful manager?

The answer of course, is Yes!

I know it all depends on how we define “successful” but there is no doubt that within our culture and actually within the business world as a whole, success is usually defined as financial success. There are many people who are financially successful from a business, management, or leadership perspective even though no one would classify them as “not being jerks”. All you have to do is read through the business magazines and journals and you can quickly pick up who is well respected for their “all round” good approach to people as well as business issues and those who are just respected for their “business acumen”. The literature is filled with names like Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Robert Nardelli, Bill Gates, Michael Eisner, and Leona Helmsley. Some of them have changed over time and some have not. (I’ll let you fit them into the appropriate category, past and present.)

So if we define success as financial success (including the financial success that comes from achieving what you set out to accomplish which in turn provides you with financial rewards) you can be a jerk or you can be a nice person and anywhere in between.

So why even care? If you can be successful financially, why should you even care about how you treat people?

The answer is “time”. The answer is “longevity”. You can’t be a jerk and be successful in the long run. You can make your millions of dollars quickly but you can’t sustain success in the long run by abusing people. There are some people who will join the jerk and work for him or her for a while… but sooner or later the rudeness grows thin.

People self select who they want to work for. And there are some people who will work for the jerk… for a while. But in fact, it’s becoming more and more difficult to be a jerk and be successful. The reason for this is workplace diversity and by that I mean that today’s workforce is make up of people of all ages, from teens to 70 year-olds. Today’s workforce is made up of men and women from all over the world, with various cultural and educational backgrounds. Today’s successful managers and leaders are not those who are jerks but those who are flexible enough to be able to integrate that diverse workforce and mold them into a team.

It finally gets down to this one question… “How do you want to live your life?” There are plenty of people who don’t want to live a life of consideration for others. There are those that do. Financial success can be achieved by both. So in the end, the question is “How do you want to move through the world?” “How do you want to treat people?”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to be like someone else in order to be successful. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to be nice and compassionate or that you have to be ruthless and heartless. First be yourself and then be flexible enough to be successful.

Personally, I’m of the belief that we can have it all. I want to move through the world being involved with people in a supportive and positive way, AND be flexible enough to be effective.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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