10 Signs your Boss is a Jerk (and what to do about it)

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In 30 years of work, I wish I could say I have never had a bad boss. The truth is, I have had a few terrible bosses. Part of the problem is a lack of formal leadership training which I wrote about in an article called Desperately Seeking Leadership. The sad truth is most managers today have not received any formal leadership training.

The other part of the problem is that some people are just jerks.

“Work, work, work; Big pile of it and the boss is a jerk; I just want to disappear; Wishin’ I was somewhere other than here.” ~ Jimmy Buffett – License to Chill

Amy Osmond Cook wrote about this in an article that inspired this post, Are You a Jerk? 10 Questions to Ask Yourself. In the article, she provides a quick self-assessment to check your level of “jerkness.”

Applying this thinking, I created a list for you to evaluate your boss to see if they are a jerk:

1. They won’t give you their full attention. A sure sign your boss is a jerk is if they are more interested in their phone, their computer, or their paperwork than you. Great bosses stop what they are doing to listen to their people. Jerks don’t.

2. They make promises with no intention to keep them. Bad bosses make false promises to get what they want from people. They will tell employees what they want to hear with no intentions of keeping their word. Great bosses meet their commitments to their people. Jerks don’t.

3. They keep all information close to the vest. Great bosses trust people and they are open and honest with communications. Bad bosses don’t trust anyone and they rarely share information for fear it may be used against them. If your boss keeps you in the dark, they are probably a jerk.

4. They stay isolated. The closed door to your boss’s office is a sure sign he wants to be left alone and a pretty good indication they may be a jerk. Poor bosses stay isolated, they rarely visit their employees, and they avoid spending time with the workforce. If your boss has never visited your work area and has no idea what you do for the company, they are probably a jerk.

5. They care more about their career than the company. Jerk bosses make every decision based on how it will look for their career. They care only for themselves and are willing to allow bad things to happen to other departments and employees if it makes them look good. Great leaders put the company and their people ahead of themselves.

6. They don’t show respect for your time. If your boss is constantly late to meetings, frequently reschedules appointments, or keeps you in discussions long after the end of your shift, they are either a poor planner or a jerk. Great leaders treat their people and their time with respect. Jerks only care about themselves.

7. They don’t trust you to make decisions. Your boss may be a jerk if they micromanage and don’t trust you to make decisions. Great leaders inspire and empower people because they trust them. If you get the feeling your boss doesn’t trust you or your peers, you are probably working for a jerk.

8. They don’t give you unfiltered access to senior management. Because jerk bosses are primarily motivated by their career, they spend a lot of time controlling the message to their supervisors. They fear you will mess up that message and reveal the truth. If your boss is keeping you away from their boss, they are probably a jerk.

9. They use words like “I” more than “We.” There’s no “I” in team but there are a lot of them coming from jerk bosses. Listening to a leader talk to their boss will give you an indication of their jerk level. If you lose count of the number of times they say “I” especially when you know they should be saying “We” you are probably working for a jerk.

10. They rarely provide praise but they carefully document all criticism. A clear sign your boss is a jerk is if they put all criticism in writing and rarely praise your work. Putting negative feedback in writing is a sign they are documenting a case against you if there is ever a dispute. Remember, a jerk boss cares about their career, not yours.

If you have a boss that exhibits two or more of these signs, there are a couple things you can do.

Confront them. This needs to be done carefully. Please see my article Should I Stay or Should I Go? What to do when you Disagree with Management to get some ideas on how to do this.

Learn from them. As a Naval Officer, they taught us to learn from every leader you serve with, good or bad. Learn the things you like and will emulate in the future and learn the things you will never do. A bad leader helps you see things to avoid in your own leadership style.

What do you think? Are there other signs of a poor leader? What has been your experience? Have you worked for a jerk? What did you do about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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