Let’s Stop Giving Jerks Power!

Let’s Stop Giving Jerks Power!

In case you missed it, there’s a situation here in Canada with a “media icon” (as some call him) and several allegations and charges of sexual assault and violence… The stories are horrific and the victim blaming even more horrific, in my opinion, but that’s not the point of this post. I am hoping some positive changes can come out of the situation, in society and in the workplace.

Let’s stop giving jerks power. Even brilliant jerks.

By many accounts, it seems like this is just what Jian Ghomeshi was. A brilliant interviewer, great at being direct and not backing down from tough questions, with strong ambition and work ethic. However, along with his “brilliance” comes a history of being a jerk.

In a Toronto Life article from January, Ghomeshi is described as a “type A” personality, and people at CBC share some experiences working with him – “There is no one on staff who can rein him in,” “He won’t answer emails, producers can’t get in touch with him, then if someone makes a call he doesn’t agree with, he’ll flip out,” and stories of him flying off the handle when others shared in his chair and limelight.

More recently Ed the Sock posted this on Facebook, describing his perception of Ghomeshi as “smug”, “entitled”, and “arrogant” and a “workplace tyrant”. He also says that “The TV biz is way too tolerant of shitty behaviour by ‘stars’.” I think that, unfortunately, this is the state of affairs in many businesses, not just media.

So what should we do?

1. Promote people for the right reasons.

One of the most common reasons I see leaders promoted is because they are high performers. Sounds logical, right? Why wouldn’t you recognize your high performers? I agree – high performers need recognition. But just because they are a high performer does not mean they will make a good leader of other high performers.

What do do: Promote people based on leadership potential and values, not just because they’re good at their job. A leader doesn’t have to be the most likeable person, but he/she does have to be aware of his/her strengths and limitations and interested in his/her own and others’ development. Leaders need to build trust through treating people with respect, being trustworthy, and trusting others.

2. Provide ongoing development for leaders

We often promote or hire people to leadership positions and then assume they will lead. Sometimes we send them to training for a few days and then expect them to lead. Either way, there’s more support and development needed to build sustainable leadership.

Leadership is a forever developing skill. The best leaders flex their style to other peoples’ needs. They are aware of what they need to improve, they know they’re not perfect, and they find mentors, coaches and other development means. Their organizations support their development.

slipperyslope3. Zero Tolerance. Avoid the slippery slope.

Too often, we tolerate small indiscretions or situation where respect is not demonstrated. We do this for many reasons – the person is in a leadership position; we’re not interested in conflict; we don’t feel like it’s worthwhile; it’s been tolerated before; it wasn’t a big enough deal to worry about; the list goes on. But bullying and harassment – in and out of the workplace – is a slippery slope.

I think (and hope) the Jian Ghomeshi scandal will serve as a catalyst for leaders and organizations who, in the past did tolerate bad behaviour, especially that of “successful” leaders. This situation has forced organizations to take a closer look, sooner. In fact, as I write this, two MPs in Canada have been suspended over allegations of inappropriate behaviour as with sources suggesting sexual harassment complaints. Here’s a great clip from Sun News featuring Laura Babcock sharing her thoughts on the changes we may be seeing.

Nip disrespectful behaviour in the bud at the top of the slippery slope. Don’t wait till it is careening out of control. In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act outlines workplace harassment in broad terms, beyond those covered by Human Rights legislation. If you know me, you know I tend to be a bit of an anti-policy HR leader – I tend to gravitate away from creating policies and from the legislated side of business, but I think Bill 168 is a good thing. It is so important that people realize that behaviours like intimidation and verbal or physical threats are simply not allowed – and, while unfortunate that it takes legislation to help to clarify this, if it helps, I’m for it!. People need to know that there is a forum for their complaints and that they will be taken seriously. It’s important to teach people what those bullying and harassment may look like in action, so they can curb the behaviour when it’s less extreme. And it’s important that everyone knows and steps in, even when you’re not the victim.

3. Focus on more than results.

Managing through intimidation and fear can garner results – at least in the short term – some of the time. It can be easy for a manager to hide his bad behaviour in positive results. It is important to look at other measures of success.

Measure engagement – and not just once a year! There are several new software applications that offer pulse measurements so that you can quickly find a problem. Check out Officevibe and TinyPulse for two examples. Measure feedback and development. Are your leaders mentoring and coaching their team members and providing constructive and positive feedback? Apps like Work.com, Small Improvements, and Achievers can help to encourage and measure timely feedback. These are key to engagement. There are many other things to measure, but start here at least. Development, feedback and engagement will lead to positive results in a more sustained measure.

4. Think EQ, not just IQ

Smart is not always better. When you’re measuring intelligence, look at emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to read, understand and react to other people’s emotions and to express and control your own. Skills like empathy, social awareness and impulse control are part of emotional intelligence. Regardless of how “smart” or intelligent you are, if you lack emotional intelligence, you will struggle to build trust and inspire followers.

Use an emotional intelligence assessment like Thomas International’s TEIQue (which I happen to be certified in and provide coaching for). Discuss and encourage development in emotional intelligence. Many of these skills can be learned and practiced over time, so if someone scores low on some of the measures, there are ways to enhance their competence in them.

At the end of the day, just do not tolerate jerks – at any level – in your organization.

Netflix has a rule about “no brilliant jerks” (you can check out their culture of Freedom and Responsibility slideshare below – No brilliant jerks is referenced on pages 33 and 35, but there’s a ton of awesome stuff in it). I’ve always loved this rule. It’s simple and clear. What if we all started enforcing simple and clear rules like this? What if we simply stopped tolerating workplace tyrants?
If you haven’t already had a discussion about this scandal and making sure people feel safe and heard in your organization, it’s time to do so. Sit down with your senior team and make sure everyone is aware of what is and is not acceptable. Make sure that EVERY complaint, no matter who it is about, makes its way to a fair HR leader or impartial investigator. Educate or re-train people.
To quote Ed the Sock (seriously, I never thought I’d be saying that):

“why don’t we use the Jian Ghomeshi revelations for more than some vindictive snickers, which I’ve engaged in too, and open a discussion about the workplace-enabling of assholes?”


  1. November 6, 2014 at 9:47 am

    […] the halls at CBC who knew about his abusive behaviour at work and did nothing about it. My friend Pam Ross just wrote a thoughtful blog about the need to not tolerate jerks in the workplace, but it got me reflecting on why we do. I’m […]

    Reply »
  2. December 11, 2014 at 8:02 am

    […] I am WOWed! New President! New Customer Experience! Let’s Stop Giving Jerks Power! How to Create a Disengaged Employee in 4 Easy Steps! How I Stopped Sucking at Networking – using […]

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