Jerks in the IT Workplace


Ever had a jerk for a boss? Ever feel like their attitude leads to bad decisions?

Tom Davenport, chair of IT and management at Babson College and co-author of Competing on Analytics, takes a look at jerk bosses in a post on HarvardBusiness.org. His key assertion: Not only are jerks annoying, but they're bad decision makers.

Survivors and victims of the Wall Street fallout might know this better than anyone, Davenport says, but I think we've all seen this before. (If someone out there can honestly tell me that they've never dealt with a "jerk"--I'm restraining my usual choices of language--in the workplace, then I'll give you a prize.)

But I can't say that I've seen too much of this in IT. I'm sure plenty of you could comment and say that you've had some horrible bosses (and please do comment--I'd love to hear your stories), but I can't point to too many "jerk" CIOs.

Davenport's post cites a few examples of executive-level jerks, and plenty has been written about bad attitudes in the workplace. What I'm wondering is what, specifically to IT, happens when jerks take the helm. Are there issues or problems that are unique to IT, that maybe others in the organization wouldn't understand?

If you are someone who's dealing with a jerk boss, hang in there. As Davenport cites, and as most of us have seen, bad guys usually get what they deserve...

For more on how behavior affects IT, check out this report from Chris Dowse and Paul Hertz.


12 Comments for "Jerks in the IT Workplace"

  • Lessons learned October 10, 2009 5:13 pm

    This is such a great topic to discuss. I'm an IT manager myself. Luckily our current company's CIO is more concerned about the bottom line than what the hell we do every day. In other words, he does not micromanage. How does this trickle down to the rest of the IT department? The creativity, drive and motivation by individuals is not stifled. We have a business culture where we truly feel it is a team effort to meet the company's goals. More than that, we believe in hiring from within first. What a concept, right? Since we have an excellent CIO at the helm who makes clear and concise goals for us to reach, the implementation is well planned and discussed beforehand. If a staff member sees a problem or conflict with the goal, there is no punishment for his/her viewpoint. Instead, this open feedback helps us determine if we are headed for a successful path to a project's full fruition and catch problems before they become bigger ones. Admitting that a project is heading for disaster early is better than wasting more resources until it fails. If your company CIO does not see that, you will be forced into a corner and become his/her scapegoat for a failed project. It's the law of the jungle. If you do have a jerk of a boss who sees you just as a subordinate and not as a vehicle to success, I'd follow GRShman's advice. Although it will not give you professional growth, let the risk taker be your boss. I'd also document everything you have done and learn from the jerk's mistake. When she/he's is fired, you can always guide the next boss on why the project failed and he/she will be eternally grateful. I know I owe a lot to my right-hand man when I started as the IT manager. There is nothing admirable or intellectual about breeding a love-hate relationship with management. In fact, low morale is the worst plague you can contribute as a manager.

  • Tom Davenport August 13, 2009 6:40 pm

    This is entirely impressionistic, but I would say there are fewer jerks per capita running IT than in other parts of business. IT people tend to be relatively rational, so decisions have to be justified on rational criteria. And pure power doesn't get you quite as far in a function like IT as in other functions--IT people don't respond well to that. Of course, there are exceptions...

  • dog August 10, 2009 11:29 pm

    Y'know what comes out of the back of a chicken? Not the eggs; the other stuff. That's how I succinctly describe my last supervisor. He was a graduate of the school of autocratic management. Therefore: - If I am the boss then, I am always right. - Either you do what I say or your replacement will. - Your attitude is a greater determinant of competence than your results. - Your reputation always exceeds your ability to improve. - It is cheaper to replace you than to improve you (eh, ........what?).

  • I live with one August 10, 2009 6:46 pm

    I often wonder what prompted my CIO to name our jr. financial officer his deputy CIO. For the last year and half, this guy has looked over my shoulder and impeded me from making my own recommendations in strategic planning and set direction. I'm an IT enterprise architect with 41 years in this business; nothing to brag about, but I have good reputation setting sound system architectures at the enterprise level. Everything I have to offer must have a financial reason (of course) but it shouldn't be an overriding factor as he wants it to be. Not all of our initiatives have a financial motive, but most of the time it is a rear-end covering because someone screwed up years before. Every attempt to streamline must have his OK. He suggests this or that to be tweaked with an attitude for presentation purposes and three or four months later, the project is shelved and start in another venue. Never realizing that all the effort put forth is of value; the investment in time alone is worthless. It may sound like I'm dumping on you guys, but this is what I call being a jerk. Don't use the position to get nothing done.

  • Have worked for jerks August 10, 2009 4:26 pm

    Negative impact on productivity can be caused by any number of jerk behaviors. Poor morale leads to lower productivity in several ways, with people not going the extra mile, and higher turnover with the requisite loss of knowledge. Some jerks are empire builders who measure their value not by what they and their team get done but by how many people they have beneath them. The result is of course a lower paid staff made up largely of people who aren't fully qualified to fulfill the responsibilities of their job title. Some jerks are old-fashioned yes-men who promise things that can't be delivered because they don't have the courage to say no and don't involve their technical resources before making commitments. With so many IT professionals having disorders along the autism spectrum (e.g. Asperger's), some like to use their positions to act as cruel bullies and humiliate people, supposedly under a justifiable guise. Probably not last and certainly not least are the credit-takers and blame-throwers. IT people tend to be highly analytical and as a result are suspicious of any attempts at emotional manipulation. Jerks frequently try to use tactics unsuited to IT professionals to manage them rather than be honest and provide the information and tools needed to get the job done, which is what the IT professional really wants. The main reasons for the IT spend is to maintain existing business, win new business and contain costs. The good IT pros understand this. The jerks don't.

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