THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MID-LEVEL JERK MANAGER | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 05, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, April 05, 2019

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MID-LEVEL JERK MANAGER

Why do companies have so many jerks and egomaniacs? This is the question I keep asking myself as I hear the colourful stories shared by friends who are part of Dhaka’s corporate world. Having started a business right after graduation, I’ve never had the chance to work in the corporate sector myself. But when I hear some of their encounters with terribly misbehaving supervisors, I feel glad I’m not in their shoes. Who would want to be? There is one story where a supervisor kept screaming at a female batch-mate of mine so loudly in front of all their co-workers that she was reduced to tears. And this was one of the “leading” multinationals of the country. What kind of a company not only keeps such terrible supervisors, but also promotes them further up the management?

IBA graduates are notorious for job-hopping. They say we switch jobs for merely a few thousand bucks. However, interestingly, amongst all the job switches I have seen so far amongst my friends, most of them happened not because the new place offered better salary, but because the earlier company had a terrible supervisor. To put it simply, the person was tired of being mistreated by his boss. This phenomenon keeps repeating so often amongst my peers that by now I’ve become a strong believer of the adage “People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses”. Unsurprisingly, global studies have shown bad managers to be the number one reason for people quitting.

And what is most interesting is that these people behave terribly not just with their direct reports, but with stakeholders too. This is where I speak from first-hand experience. I run a catering company called Alpha Catering, and over our 2-year journey, we’ve had to interact with managers of all sorts of companies - local, multinational, big, small - for the purpose of providing our services. In most cases, I brace myself to be treated as a “lowly vendor”, to be made to wait for an hour or two when I arrived clearly on time, to be talked to in very rude, condescending tones, as if the future of my business depended on their order. Again, it’s not just first-hand experience I talk from. Many other entrepreneurs I know lament how they are treated like refugees by companies, and that such treatment of vendor is universal in this country. So what exactly is going on? How has good behavior suddenly become such a scarce currency?

Unfortunately, such issues can also bring a bad reflection on the company’s owners or CEO. If you as the owner promote jerks to higher management, what does it say about you? That might be the first question we ask in such a situation. However, an insinuation that the owner or CEO is a jerk himself because some of his managers have such negative traits, may not always be correct. This is where I want to bring to light another set of very different experiences I’ve had in running my company. At Alpha, aside from dealing with terrible company managers, we’ve also had the good fortune of interacting with some highly successful people, like CEOs of multinationals, chairmen of local conglomerates, celebrities, sports icons, high government officials, etc. For us, the experience has been totally opposite when meeting the successful individuals.  More often than not, they seem like the nicest people you’d meet. Despite being so obviously powerful and wealthy, they will always treat you very courteously, show you respect, pay attention when you speak, etc. If you meet them, they won’t let you go without at least some tea and refreshments. If they give you an appointment, they won’t leave you waiting for ages. They are very respectful of other people’s time.

Again, many people I know, especially entrepreneurs, have corroborated this experience of mine. So the first question that comes to mind is that, if these people are not jerks, why do they promote jerks? One reason is because jerks are only so to people they are powerful over; their behavior instantly shifts when dealing with higher authorities. Jerks often cozy and butter people up on their way to the top. So the big boss often fails to notice the jerk in his usual behavior. Another reason is because, like it or not, many of these jerks tend to be great individual performers. When a boss sees an employee exceeding in his individual role, many make the mistake of assuming this person will be similarly effective in a managerial role. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and the new jerk manager ends up frustrating his juniors, who wind up leaving the firm.

In the end, I’m a firm believer of the fact that bad behavior does not pay. It seems that if you’re a rude and arrogant individual, you will one day become a mid-manager, or even a department head. But if you treat people nicely, with respect, you can expect to become a CEO or own your own flourishing business! And at the same time, bosses should also be careful about who they are promoting to higher management, especially if they don’t want their best talents jumping to rival firms.

 

Muhammed Asif Khan is striving to leave an impact by working hard and helping everyone around him. For any support or advice, you can reach him at muhammed.asifkhan92@gmail.com.

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