Most of the leadership issues we have to address are because of stupid mistakes or the leader acts like a jerk.
Those were words shared several years ago by a friend and colleague. Could successful leadership really be so simple? Since then, my observations have confirmed that, although other factors are important, the first two rules of leadership are that simple—don’t be stupid and don’t be a jerk. Long-term success ultimately depends on making smart decisions based on accurate information and treating others as real people, who have dreams, hopes, and desires to do well.
Every day thousands of people quit their jobs. They reach their limit and realize that enough is enough. They bid farewell to friends and co-workers. They exit a familiar, comfortable place and enter an unknown territory—new job, boss, peers, and environment. They are convinced that the unknown has got to be better than the current situation that they know all too well. They believe that anything, anywhere, would be better than where they are.
So, they leave.
During their last day on the job, they have an exit interview with human resources and are asked: “Why are you leaving?” They respond that they will be paid more at the new job, the benefits are better, the new job is closer to home, or the hours are better.
If you believe exit interviews, great people leave good organizations to start over someplace else because of money or for more advancement opportunities. Why would they say anything else? After all, the person leaving doesn’t want to burn any bridges and has nothing to gain by telling the whole truth. Instead, they give reasons that are believable, but not accurate. Most exit interviews do not uncover the whole truth.
Occasionally, the difference in money is significant enough to warrant a move, but most of the time it’s not about money or career advancement. Money is only one piece of the puzzle, and perhaps a small one at that. Most people want more than just a paycheck—they want to feel good about where they work, whom they work with, and what they accomplish together as a team.
The truth is that most people who quit and leave, or those who quit and stay, made a decision to quit their leader. Their resignation or disengagement has little to do with pay, benefits, distance from home, or long hours. They quit because something between them and their leader has gone awry. The obstacles overshadowed the desire and ability to do a good job and frustrations faced every day. Ironically, the very person who, on the first day at their new job, enthusiastically greeted them, shook their hand, and welcomed them as an important link on the team created most of those frustrations.
Every leader gets caught up in the pressure of the moment and does things that—upon reflection—were pretty stupid. Dumb things like: hiring in haste, rewarding actions that work against what you are really trying to accomplish, not paying attention to the needs of your team, or piling on more work and leading your superstars directly to burnout and checkout. Some of the most frustrating words for a leader to hear are: “This is stupid. Why are we doing this? If they had only asked we would have told them that this would not work.”
Don’t be stupid.
The second rule of leadership is Don’t Be a Jerk.
It may be a few years away, but imagine your retirement party. Associates from throughout your organization will gather to celebrate and extend best wishes to you. The room will be packed.
One by one people will make their way to the front of the room, grab the microphone, and begin talking about the impact that you made on them. Some of the stories they tell will be funny, some serious, but every story will personal. One person will probably speak about how you provided compassion and encouragement during a tough time. Another may say that she is thankful that you demanded her best and would not accept mediocrity. Someone else will share that you listened to him and changed your stance on an issue. Another person may recall the time you sent a personal congratulation note to her son for his graduation. Someone else may talk about a time that you made a serious mistake but owned up to it, learned from it, and became a better leader because of the experience.
Other team members will begin their speeches with: I remember . . .; You took the time to . . . ; You helped me . . . ; I’ll never forget . . . ; You cared enough to . . . ; and so on.
I doubt that anyone will talk about successful or failed strategies. No one will mention a successful or failed marketing program. There will be no toasts to celebrate winning an account. The evening will be filled with personal stories of how you treated each person individually.
Meanwhile, in the same building, another retirement party may be going on. The party is a not a retirement celebration. It is a celebration that a leader has retired. In fact, the leader who is retiring will not even be invited to the party. He did the same job and worked just as hard as you. But he chose to do it differently. He was a jerk.
You understood that leadership was not about you. Your primary interest was not in the accumulation of power—it was in developing your people to become their very best. The other retiree was more interested in the accumulation of power and wealth than helping those around him become their best. Typically, jerks are greedy and interested in only themselves. They act and react without thinking. Jerks enjoy taking the easy road and are quick to blame others.
That is not you. You are a great person with honorable intentions, but sometimes you may come across differently than what you really are. Unfortunately, everyone occasionally and unintentionally comes across like a jerk. The difference between you and the real jerk is the frequency of jerk moments and how quickly you recover when your jerk moment appears. Hopefully, your jerk moments are rare, temporary, and you recover from them quickly. And, your team knows that regardless of the temporary jerk moment, you had their best interest in mind.
The other retiree’s team knew that his jerk moment was just another ordinary day.
You may be thinking that some jerks achieve extraordinary results. After all, you have heard that nice guys finish last. Yes, some jerks achieve extraordinary results. A marketing genius, fabulous communicator, and incredible visionary may achieve results while many of those around him considered him to be a jerk.
Be aware that the people in your organization would probably not stick around for long if you choose the bullying, arrogant, insulting, and uncompromising leadership route.
Don’t be a jerk.
Leadership is demanding. If you want to lead a great team, you have to be great. If you want great, long-term leadership success you have to win with great class.
The good news is that the rewards for being a great, rather than average, leader are heavily skewed. People want to work for the best, buy from the best, and deal with the best in almost every situation in our society. The rewards for being a great leader are enormous. People flock to winners.
If you want to achieve extraordinary results with class, follow The First Two Rules of Leadership: Don’t be Stupid. Don’t Be a Jerk it will help improve morale, decrease turnover, increase everyone’s job satisfaction, and you will have a whole lot more fun leading.