People love complaining about their boss. This single grievance has fueled an entire industry of comic strips, TV series, movies, and office paraphernalia. We have a love-hate relationship with authority, in that we love to hate them. But that is they key to this whole problem, we love it. Our first instinct in a situation is to defer responsibility to someone else, and then blame them for everything. This fundamental psychology of our culture is to blame for the “jerk boss” phenomenon, but the good news is that it is changing.
We Hate Responsibility
Most people, by nature, do not WANT responsibility. “The buck stops here” is an intimidating thought. We want someone who “knows what they are doing” to have the responsibility. The problem is that at some point a human being HAS to take responsibility, and at some point ANY human being doesn’t fully know what they are doing. This means that we all know taking responsibility often means taking blame, and we want that to be someone else. The only people who WANT responsibility are those who confuse it with control or glory.
The Confident Illusion of Competency
“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” - Charles Bukowski
It takes a lot of energy to accuse someone of being a liar, it is much less taxing to take people at their word. The good news is that we tend to be a fairly trusting species, the bad news is that we so often don’t deserve it. When people act confident, bold, or loud, we tend to give them a “trust credit” for knowing what they are doing. We also tend not to want to make them louder, so we look for an excuse to placate them. These work together to create the illusion that loud and obnoxious is a sign of confidence, and we view confidence as competency.
Much of the history of the world has been lead by militant leaders, which is why this illusion has taken hold in our subconscious. However, we are learning more and more that it is the truly intelligent and insightful who are full of doubt. The intelligent person is aware of the challenges and issues ahead, so they are full of questions and caution. Only an idiot can charge into battle without fear. So the idiot is confident, and the intelligent is cautious. So when the people ask “Who wants to lead?” the idiot says, “Me!” This also explains modern politics.
Testosterone is Going Out of Style
The further humanity moves away from it’s misogynistic past, the more bullying and brute force are becoming passe. Studies are showing, more and more, that women, introverts, and “quieter” individuals often make better leaders. Also, the general population is becoming more and more educated, meaning that we are more interested in “why” and “how” than we are “who.”
Corporate boards and venture capitalists all over are wising up to the fact that the loudest person in the room may not be best suited for the job. Yes, risk taking is part of being an entrepreneur or leader, but an introvert is more likely to take a risk for thoughtful reasons while an extrovert often takes risks because “they want to” or a “gut feeling.” Women, likewise, are showing that they make more informed decisions and use collaboration much more than their male counterparts.
Revenge of the Nerds
Inevitably, it is up to everyone to stand up to bullies and call out BS among leaders. The insightful need to speak up, and the intelligent need to take more responsibility. The problem with jerks is that they confuse control with responsibility. Leaders are people who take responsibility for the world around them, tyrants are people who take control. Let’s value those who doubt over those who are certain, those who collaborate over those who dominate, and those who explain themselves over those who blame.