NEW YORK (MainStreet) Jerks are everywhere, and often they have the big offices. Have a jerk boss, and, probably, you drink too much, or you have become a compulsive gym rat, or maybe you are covering your body in tats. Either way, work for a jerk and it's the workers who pay the emotional price.
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Jerk bosses are self-centered - me first (and always) - and they are all about pushing themselves up the corporate ladder while stepping on the "little people" who helped their ascent.
That's the general warning label. Want more specific descriptors that indicate that the boss - not you - is the problem in this workplace relationship? They are in fact obvious - but only once you've thought about them.
* "They take credit for others' work," said leadership consultant Roxi Hewertson. Probably a dozen others surveyed for this article pointed to the same greediness as a proof of incurable jerkiness. Good bosses are lavish with praise for underlings, and bad bosses do the opposite. Stranger still: jerk bosses often have convinced themselves they actually did what you did, before you did it.
* Jerk bosses also routinely attempt to pass blame for departmental flubs onto underlings, excusing themselves of any wrongdoing. This happens not just occasionally. It's a common fingerpointing that leaves that boss's reports knowing he does not have their backs. Many experts fingered this trait as a sure qualifier for jerk status.
* They just can't 'fess up. In a survey by leadership and communications trainers Fierce, Inc., more than 40% of respondents who felt they had a bad supervisor identified the cause as the boss's lack of candor, meaning this jerk is incapable of an open and honest discussion. When your boss simply cannot level with you, know he or she is a jerk, period.
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* "Paralysis of Analysis - Can't make a decision and stick with it.," said labor/management relations expert Linda Williams. Leaders are supposed to lead - but some simply waffle and delay, and the more they do, the higher the blood pressure of their subordinates will go. This flaw is not as aggressively jerky as most of the others but workers whose boss displays this flaw will tell you it's nerve wracking sailing on a ship with no definite destination.
* Jerks even will ask you to lie for them - sometimes about very personal matters. "My first sign that my first boss was a jerk was when he called me into his office and he proceeded to explain that he often received calls from several ladies who were important to him," recalled Anna Renault of her time as a secretary at a state agency. "My job was to take a name, number and brief message! I was not to get into conversations with these ladies or with his wife." That same boss, incidentally, asked her to lie to his wife about attending "conferences that did not exist." Do note: any boss who habitually asks underlings to lie, about anything, automatically qualifies as a jerk. And especially when the boss wants cover for extra-marital affairs.
* Some are Jekyll and Hyde "One minute they are nice to you, the next minute they are tearing you apart," said Daniel Paulson, CEO of InVision Business Development. "One day I was being commended for all the hard work I was putting into a project. A few days later I was pulled into the same room and told I wasn't pulling my weight."
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* Jerk bosses can be counted on to be gutless - so gutless in fact that they call you to fire someone "so they don't have to do it," said Angie Segal, a business coach with ActionCOACH. More broadly, a lot of jerk bosses are masters of "why don't you and him fight," where they get underlings to handle their confrontations for them.
* "The number one telltale sign that your boss is a jerk is if he has explosive tantrums," said psychotherapist Fran Walfish. "I can't tell you how many of my adult patients throw themselves onto my couch moaning about this type of mistreatment by their bosses." Tantrums may be O.K. with three year-olds. But any boss who throws one instantly earns the jerk label.
Your boss qualifies? There is no known cure for boss jerkiness - which means quitting is your best call. That's harsh? Indeed, but working day after day for a jerk is lots harsher, and that is a painful fact.
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet