A book was written not long back entitled "The No A**holes Rule". In it, the author - Robert Sutton -discusses how "A**holes" a.k.a. "work jerks" can cause major disruptions in the workplace. The author defines work jerks as "people who pick on those beneath them and leave others feeling belittled and sapped of energy. They use their power to schmooze those above them and beat down those beneath them. Much of the rest of their time can be spent bullying their peers".
My takeaway from the book is that jerks at work have a negative impact on the bottom line. They always cost organizations more than they are worth, and they cause upheaval that is harmful to individuals as well as the organization they work for.
What can we do when confronted with jerks on our projects? When possible we should avoid and ignore them. We can also look for ways to work around their influence and create partnerships with others that are willing to help. If somebody believes falsely that being a jerk will get them to the top quicker, there isn't much you and I can do about it. One thing is certain, we don't ever want to emulate their behavior. Jerks are poisonous, they are detrimental to project progress, and the value they sometimes create is erased by the disruption they cause.
Jerks almost always know they are jerks. They don't believe in Win/Win, they believe in Win/Lose (they must win, others must lose). Jerks are self centered, have large egos, and we aren't going to change them.
Project Management Rule: Project managers have to get the job done in spite of work jerks.
As project managers, we must learn to work with all types of people and get our projects completed on time and on budget in spite of them and their behaviors.
Remember, when confronted by a jerk be patient and respectful. Kill them with kindness. Don't forget that jerks can have influence over your project and career, and they occasionally have good ideas. There biggest flaw is they lack good character.
Project Management Rule: Work jerks don't subscribe to lofty ideas like fairness, cooperation, self-discipline, or integrity. They are reactive, many times "enemy-centered", and concerned about defending their desires and rights.
The bottom line is that work jerks lack emotional maturity. One definition of maturity is the balance between courage and consideration. Companies and organizations need to do a better job of screening for jerks during the hiring process. They need to know that studies have shown work jerks cost them more then they produce. Organizations don't need people in a leadership or any position for that matter that have questionable character, a win/lose work ethic, and a Scarcity Mentality.
Project managers need to have conduct that is based upon principles, high ethical standards, and show integrity in everything they do. If we practice these things we will ensure that we are focused on building and maintaining Win/Win relationships, which is what is required to be a successful project manager.
Work jerks rarely have staying power. They will be here today and gone tomorrow because eventually their conduct will catch up with them. Take heart and fight the good fight. It will pay off in the end.