Reflections on Leadership: How Not to be a Jerk

Weekly Inspiration

How Not to be a Jerk

John Wayne is credited with one of my favorite quotes:

“Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid. “

I would like to propose an alternate version of this quote for you leaders out there:

“Leadership is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re a jerk!”

Pick the saying of your choice (you catch more flies with honey?) but the message you send with your behavior makes all of the difference. If you are accidentally telling people that they don’t matter to you then your results won’t be what you are hoping. Remember that good leaders are easy to follow and that starts with not being a jerk.

I wanted to share a few of my thoughts on how to avoid being (or at least appearing to be) a jerk. These are based on some of my observations and are things I try to do myself.

Rather than just unload a huge list of items on you all at once, I am going to break these up into 3 weeks. So get excited because I am going to be taking about this for a while!

You may notice that many of these are things that apply outside of work and that is important. The saying goes that character is what we do when nobody is watching. Maybe leadership character is what we do when we aren’t trying to be a leader.

Part 1 of the ways not to be a jerk starts with how you treat people even when they have nothing to offer you.

  1. Treat others as equals in all aspects of life. Let’s start with the most important item…. You are an amazing person but so is that person next to you, you are no better or worse than they are. So treat that person, and everybody else you interact with, as an equal. Treat them the way you would like to be treated.
  2. Tell your barista good morning. One way people tend NOT to treat others as equals is one of my biggest pet peeves and jerkish behaviors. You walk into your neighborhood coffee shop first thing in the morning and the barista says “good morning how are you this morning?” Your response is “I’ll have a large latte” or something similar. You are talking to a human being who was up way earlier than you who wants to give you a positive experience and you failed to acknowledge her as a human being. Pause for a minute, say good morning, smile back and show some warmth to a fellow human being.
  3. Tip well for service and very well for great service. Staying on the topic of servers for a minute…. Servers work very hard in a low paying and often thankless job. They actively cater to your nearly every whim and depend on tips. Make sure to do your part and be as generous as you can. When you get over-the-Top service make sure to adjust your tip accordingly. If you get lackluster service still tip well because that service is likely somewhat out of your server’s control. And if it isn’t you can think of it as paying it forward to help change somebody’s bad day.
  4. Talk to people and try to learn something about them. A big part of treating others as equals is talking to them and learning about them. If you seek to learn something from the people you interact with you can establish common ground and bond and that is the first step to viewing them as an equal. Plus by seeking to get to know people you show them that they matter to you. As you learn about people and start to understand their hopes, goals, backgrounds, struggles and opinions it makes it way easier to be empathetic to their needs and struggles.
  5. Listen to understand and not just to plan your next words. When I say you should talk to people I also mean you should listen to people. Don’t just let them talk while planning your next comment. Truly listen with the intent to understand and learn.
  6. Help people even when there is nothing in it for you. I know a lot of people who are good at giving assistance when they think there is some win in it for themselves. The people who will step up and take on the extra work because they want it to lead to a promotion not just because it needs to be done. One easy way not to be a jerk is to offer your help even when it gets you nowhere – well maybe just the karma points. Start with little things like holding a door open or helping carry something, then maybe pick up that piece of trash in the office hallway and maybe even ask that coworker who has to stay late if there is anything you can do to help lighten the load.

Call to Action: make life as a leader, and the life of your followers, a little easier by actively taking steps to not be a jerk. These steps start with how you think about and treat the people around you. If you treat everyone as an equal and look for ways to get to know them and to be of service to them you really set the stage for next level leadership.

Check back next week for the next update in my How Not to be a Jerk series.

About Reflections on Leadership

Reflections on Leadership is my weekly article series reflecting on what it means to be a great leader. I hope that these thoughts can help you with your own leadership development journey.

My mission for Operation Melt is to help you melt away all of the obstacles to achieving your goals, not just your fitness goals. So, helping us all become better leaders is fully aligned with that mission. Maybe this will help achieve the Operation Melt vision…

To create a world where goals never die of loneliness.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your perspective on this topic, my Reflections on Leadership series or anything else via a comment on this post, a share on social media or message me directly.

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