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Jerk Bosses: To Coach or Can?

When Sharon and I did our research for our first edition of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay , we talked to folks who left organizations and wrote “more money” or “better opportunity” on their exit interviews. When we caught up with them later and we asked for more information, they said (in no uncertain terms), “My boss was a jerk, and I decided I didn’t have to put up with it anymore.”

When Sharon and I did our research for our first edition of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay , we talked to folks who left organizations and wrote “more money” or “better opportunity” on their exit interviews. When we caught up with them later and we asked for more information, they said (in no uncertain terms), “My boss was a jerk, and I decided I didn’t have to put up with it anymore.”

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We were fascinated by the word, and as good researchers we began to ask for some clarity and definition. We ended up with enough to write a whole chapter in our book, invent an assessment tool, and collect some great stories. Lately, those stories about mean bosses, bully bosses, are everywhere. There was a great article in American Way called “Monster Managers.” It said 42% of US workers reported incidents of yelling and verbal abuse in their workplaces. And, it said that 30% of workers admitted to yelling at their co-workers themselves.

On our website, we asked over 2,000 people which of the jerk characteristics would most make them walk out the door. Here’s the latest “top five” (six, really), and how they differ for men and women.

  • Belittles people: Ranks #1 with both men (46%) and women (44%)
  • Lies: Ranks #2 with both men (34%) and women (40%)
  • Micromanages: Ranks #3 with men (27%)
  • Condescends or demeans: Ranks #3 with women (36%), #4 with men (26%)
  • Humiliates or embarrasses others: Ranks #5 with men (24%), #4 with women (29%)
  • Acts arrogantly: Ranks #5 with women (26%)

So here’s our query: what should an organization do?

Some would say “coach” that jerk…give them strong feedback, tough love, behavioral counseling, etc. Others would say, “OUT – If you can’t treat talent right you shouldn’t be here”. Others ignore it altogether and just hope it goes away. (We think most organizations can be included in the last category. They don’t “coach” or “can” – they simply wait it out.)

What do you think? What are the ramifications of each choice? Have you ever been at the mercy of a jerk boss? What did it do to you?

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