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JANUARY 21, 2000

It's No Mystery Why Some People Lose Staff — They're Jerks

Excerpts from Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay


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People cautioned us not to write this chapter, or at least not to use the word "jerk" in the title. But to avoid this topic is to avoid discussing a primary reason that people leave their jobs. Employees will leave if they don't like their bosses — even when they are well paid, receive recognition and have a chance to learn and grow.

This chapter is not about labeling some people as jerks and letting the rest of us off the hook. It is about defining that kind of behavior, assessing whether you behave that way, and trying to change for the better.

We asked dozens of people, "What do jerks act like or look like?" This checklist reflects what we heard. Score yourself, using a 0-5 scale: zero means you never act this way and five means you often act this way.

Intimidate __________
Condescend or demean __________
Act arrogant __________
Withhold praise __________
Slam doors, pound the table when angry __________
Swear __________
Behave rudely __________
Belittle people in front of others __________
Micro-manage __________
Manage up, not down __________
Always look out for number one __________
Give only negative feedback __________
Yell at people __________
Lie __________
Act above the rules __________
Enjoy making people sweat __________
Act superior/smarter than everyone else __________
Show disrespect __________
Act sexist __________
Act racist __________
Withhold critical information __________
Use inappropriate humor __________
Blow up in meetings __________
Start every sentence with "I" __________
Steal credit or the spotlight from others __________
Block career moves __________
Distrust everyone __________
Show favoritism __________
Humiliate and embarrass others __________
Criticize constantly (often at a personal level) __________
Overuse sarcasm __________
Deliberately ignore or isolate some people __________
Set impossible goals or deadlines __________
Never accept blame, let others take the hit __________
Undermine authority __________
Show lack of caring for people __________
Betray trust or confidences __________
Gossip/spread rumors __________
Act as if others are stupid __________
Have "sloppy moods" __________
Use fear as a motivator __________
Take revenge __________
Total Score:__________

Interpretation Guidelines:

(0-20) Although you have a bad day now and then, you are probably not viewed as a jerk. Watch behaviors where you scored above a three and get more feedback from employees.

(20-60) Look out! You could be viewed as a jerk at least in some situations.

(60 or more) You are at high risk for losing talent. Seek feedback, and consider getting a coach.

If you checked none of these behaviors, you're either a saint or you have a few blind spots. Most of us do some of these things some of the time. The question is how much? And what effect is your behavior having on the people who report to you?

WHO, ME? We are all jerks sometimes. Some of us act that way when we feel backed into a corner or when someone presses the wrong buttons. Give the results from the checklist serious thought. Ask your friends at work to look at the list with you and give you honest feedback. If you don't have any friends at work, that may be a clue. If others agree you often exhibit more than one or two of these behaviors, you are at high risk for losing talent.

Sadly, too many American corporate heroes operate in jerk mode too much of the time. Some have temper tantrums in staff meetings, even throw things. Others humiliate people frequently. Because of their status, they get away with it.

If it worked for them, why not for you? Because you will be more effective if your employees like and respect you. People respond when they are treated with dignity. They work harder for bosses they like. With competition for good people increasing, it is critical to keep your stars and be able to recruit new talent when necessary.

ONCE A JERK, AWAYS A JERK? You can learn new leadership skills at any age. It may not be easy to change. The difficulty depends on the answers to several questions:

— How ingrained is this behavior? Have you been acting like this for three years or fifty?

— Do you know what desired behavior looks like? It's easier to achieve a clear goal.

— Do you have people and resources who can support your efforts to change?

— How complex is the behavior? You may be able to simply stop telling off-color jokes. Negative reactions under stress are more complicated to deflect.

— Do you really want to change? If you can't answer this question, you will not change.

Once you decide to change, create an action plan. Get honest feedback from others. Think about the implications of your behaviors. Take a stress management course. Exercise. Eat well. Sleep more. Try tai chi, yoga, meditation or prayer. Seek help from others. This may be the most important thing you can do to keep talent on your team.

Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans are entrepreneurs and experts in employee retention. Kaye is the president of Beverly Kaye & Associates Inc. and Career Systems International of Scranton, Pa.( Jordan-Evans is the president of Jordan Evans Group, a leadership consulting business based in Woodland Hills, Calif. ( For more on the authors' retention strategies, see

Adapted and excerpted from Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay

Copyright 1999 by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans

Reprinted and excerpted with permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. Available at online and other bookstores or through Berrett-Kohler at (800)929-2929 or


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