If you watch, you will see a number of articles popping up dealing with some version of this issue: “does a great leader have to be something of a jerk?”
Over time, such articles usually referred to Steve Jobs, and these days Elon Musk are creeping into the conversation. And both of these leaders had pretty high JQs (Jerk Quotients).
But, I think it is a pretty big mistake to even have this conversation. It is certainly a dumb idea to say “since Steve Jobs was something of a jerk, then I will be more of a jerk, and thus, maybe more successful.” In my opinion, it doesn’t quite work that way. I think Steve Jobs, and maybe Elon Musk, were just superior leaders, who also happened to have high JQs.
In other words, maybe being a jerk, or not being a jerk, has little to do with actual success.
Yes…, not being a jerk has plenty to do with building a workplace that people want to be a part of. (Although, truth be told, the people who “survived” Steve Jobs, and the people who “survive” Elon Musk, seem to be pretty loyal. They generally believe that they got more accomplished than they could have/would have, because of the unswerving focus of these leaders).
I think that leaders who succeed have qualities unrelated to the JQ spectrum. Mainly, they have an uncanny ability to sense what people really want/need, and then they have the equally uncanny ability to marshal teams and resources to turn that into reality.
Let’s put it this way: there are some jerks who are great leaders, and plenty of jerks who are not at all much of a leader. And, there are some really “nice” – i.e., high EQ) people who do not lead very well, and a few who do.
In other words, great leaders are rare, regardless of their EQ and JQ.
But, let’s pretend that you would like to be successful, while lowering your JQ. In other words, let’s imagine that you want to be a good leader, a successful leader, and not much of a jerk. (A worthy goal, in my opinion). Here’s a little help from the book Ego vs. EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps with Emotional Intelligence by Jen Shirkani.
First, a key quote/excerpt from this book — part of Ego Trap 1 (see below):
It’s easy to end up at the top of your organization with certain blind spots that fewer and fewer people are willing to call to your attention….
Maybe people have tried to give you feedback, only to see you ultimately ignore it. So they stop. (emphasis added).
“Blind spots that fewer people are willing to call to your attention.”
That’s a nice way to say that:
you do have blind spots
nobody is willing to call you on them
you are unwilling to let anyone call you on them.
In other words, you are not just blind regarding your own blind spots, you are also deaf when it comes to listening to correctives. In other words, you are something of a jerk, and you don’t own up to it; you don’t even listen to anyone willing to tell you about your problem. Thus, guaranteeing a lower EQ, and a higher JQ.
So… whatever else your job is, the closer you get to the top of any hierarchy, the more important it is to put someone (maybe more than one such someone) into your inner circle to tell you the truth. And then, you have to listen to their warnings and correctives, and do something with what they have the courage to tell you. Otherwise, your JQ goes up while your EQ goes down.
Here are all 8 Ego Traps from the book Ego vs. EQ. You might want to read them carefully; they set quite a challenging agenda for the leader. And then read the book for a deeper dive into these 8 ego traps. Here they are:
Ego Trap 1: Ignoring feedback you don’t like
Ego Trap 2: Believing your technical skills trump your leadership skills
Ego Trap 3: Surrounding yourself with more of you
Ego Trap 4: Not letting go of control
Ego Trap 5: Being blind to your downstream impact
Ego Trap 6: Underestimating how much you are being watched
Ego Trap 7: Losing touch with the frontline experience
Ego Trap 8: Relapsing back to your old ways
But, as with most genuine challenges, it always starts with Step One: “Hello, my name is ____, and I admit…”