"You live and learn. At any rate, you live." -- Douglas Adams
If you want to see people at their best, all you have to do is step on them. You know how it is when you get elbowed or knocked aside -- if the other person is shocked and apologetic, you limp on, smiling bravely and being big about it. They say, "Pardon me," and you do.
Notice, though, that the pardoning hinges on the other person's recognizing the fault, owning up to it, and asking for forgiveness. That's common with stepping on a person's toes, but far less likely when stepping on a person's time, dignity, or career. What I'm getting to here is "the accidental jerk." The chief culprits are managers, and only recently have I come to admit that I am guilty of being one of them. I think you might be one, too.
What got me thinking about accidental jerkiness was watching a video from the folks at ej4, an online training company out of St. Louis. The creator of that video, Ken Cooper, told me that one of my columns gave him the idea. That might sound like a bit of an accidental insult ("I read your column and thought about jerks"), but it wasn't. Rather, I was writing about executives who decrease productivity, and thus aren't really practicing leadership. What to call what they do, this antileadership? I needed a new word for the art of demotivation and came up with "impedership."
The notion and the word appealed to Cooper, and he decided to undertake an experiment. He got his team together and started talking about all the ways that they had been demotivated by management at any time in their careers. The result was a wickedly useful video, free at ej4.com/Impedership.asp.
However, as I watched it, chuckling at the stupidity of bosses, I suddenly recognized myself in one of the examples. And then it happened again. Yes, I have been an accidental jerk.
One of the things I used to do, before the video, was when colleagues came in my office and I was writing on my laptop or reading e-mail on the desktop, I would attempt to sneak in a bit of typing when they weren't watching. But of course they would know ... they can hear. And that forced me to recall a client of mine who would always be typing while I was on the phone with him -- and he'd called me.
One time after asking me to repeat myself several times, he said merrily, excusing himself, "I'm multitasking." It was all I could do not to say, "By doing two things at once, you've cut your IQ in half, and believe me, those 40 points really make a difference." Yet, here I was, seeing myself in Cooper's listing, doing something much the same, guilty of what he calls "treating people as an interruption."
And then there was another of Cooper's points, this one about "Rewarding people with more work." Guilty. Someone you work with is so good you go to them with the tough assignments and the lesser person is going home early, rewarded for being less good.
I was not (I hope) guilty of some of the other impedership traits, such as mistaking the concept of "executive" for "royalty" or blaming the system by saying: "I really wish I could give you a better raise, but the money's just not available. It's out of my control." But we've all worked for such managers.
Cooper reminds us of the old saying, "People don't leave their jobs, they leave their bosses." And he even suggests to managers that they watch his video with their employees and then ask, "Which of these do I do?"
That would take guts, but then again, think back to where we started, to how big people can be when the offense is accidental and when it's acknowledged and apologized for. Such openness about being an accidental jerk is capable of transforming "impedership" into leadership.