Friday, May 29, 2009

Embracing the Jerk

Esther Steinfeld has me thinking about what it means to be jerk.

Steinfeld, who handles corporate communications for Internet retailer, created an entertaining Web site and online community to showcase the altruistic endeavors of top corporate executives. Comprised primarily of user generated content, Steinfeld encourages CEOs to upload anecdotes, photos and videos that demonstrate how they contribute to society, community and family in a positive and meaningful way.

The genesis of “Not All CEOs are Jerks” is quite personal for Steinfeld. “My dad’s a CEO and he’s not a jerk,” she writes on the site’s homepage.

While Steinfeld’s endeavor validates that most CEOs are community and family oriented, it does nothing to disprove the perception that we tend to be jerks. In fact, I’ll go so far to suggest that jerk-like qualities are a must-have trait for success in the executive suite.

Let me expand on this a bit. Once Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) began to take shape as a viable company I learned two things fairly quickly:

1. My most important responsibility is to make difficult decisions that impact the professional and personal paths of the people who work for me.

2. I am not personal friends with anyone who is a colleague at Strategic. As such, there is no emotion or favoritism that influences my thinking.

For these reasons, I can come off as a jerk in meeting the requirements of my position. Here’s an example. If someone from Strategic arrives unprepared for a scheduled internal meeting I do not hesitate to point this out in front of their peers. I’m not abusive, yet rather make it clear that this lack of professionalism is simply unacceptable.

As you can imagine, my approach on this issue has created angst for a number of employees (all of whom are former). They expressed irritation and even outrage for this slight in front of co-workers.

To this, I simply suggested they make it a priority to come prepared to meetings.

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