Being a Jerk as a Leader – A Ruthless Approach Works

In this latest blog article about “Being a Jerk as a Leader”, we cover why it is important for success. To be successful demands a level of ruthless thinking. Being ruthless isn’t a synonym for being mean and nasty. Simply defined, it means having or showing no pity or compassion. In business, this quality is required if you want to be successful. Let’s talk about how we can reconcile the idea that being successful requires some “jerk-like” behavior.

When we make decisions totally based on emotions, it can get us in trouble.

If you are having health problems and you don’t want to go to the doctor, that could be a problem if you base your decisions on how you feel. If you want to get better, you’re going to have to do the difficult task of seeing the doctor for a cure. Sometimes we have to ignore how we feel, simply because our feelings are not trustworthy.

Our responsibilities don’t include preventing us from experiencing good health as an organization. Sometimes we have to complete the difficult or unpopular task. That may make us appear to be ruthless, but it’s because we can see something that is preventing us from achieving the best results. If we want to be successful, we have to forego what feels good for what’s best.

Being ruthless allows everyone to focus on what’s best, and not what’s popular.


There are a lot of times where teams are more committed to do what’s fun, enjoyable and easy than to do what is best. I call this tendency to do the easy thing as the “dog-and-pony show.” A dog-and-pony show in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a stripped-down version of a circus show that was intended to appear bigger, more exciting and more elaborate than it really was. These shows included small animals that could do tricks, but not a whole lot more. Now the term represents something that is designed to attract attention, but has little real content.

In my father’s 3rd grade reader, there was a story of a little boy who was saving his money for a ticket to see the big circus. He had enough money for the ticket and was waiting for the big circus to come into town in a few days when a friend begged him to go to a dog-and-pony show. The problem was that the boy didn’t have enough money to go to both shows.

Instead of waiting for the big circus, he chose to go to the dog-and-pony show – which wasn’t as good as the big circus. Needless to say, he was really disappointed. Here is the profound lesson: if you want something great, you may have to deny yourself the temporary pleasure for the big and best experience. Does this lesson apply for today? It sure does.

Being everyone’s buddy can sacrifice success.


Being a leader isn’t about being everyone’s buddy. Yes, you can be nice. Yes, you can be agreeable, reasonable and respectable. You can’t afford to focus on popularity at the cost of mediocre results. Trying to be friends with everyone 100% of the time and leading your team to a highly successful level is usually incompatible. In time, you’re going to face a conflict.  More notably, you will have to make a choice between making someone happy or doing what’s best for your team and your organization.

Most likely, it involves someone who is pushing back against your expectations and demanding that you maintain a comfortable level for them. In rare cases, they may be right, but it’s not normal – or beneficial to the organization.
That’s not to say that you can’t be friends with team members. You can do it. You can be a great leader and for people to like you. What won’t work, however, is to try to make everyone happy. Frankly, it’s a lost cause if you want to make everyone happy and then be a great leader.

Hopefully you’ve figured this out. You don’t have to be a jerk to be successful.  What helps you is to have that ruthless attitude in your leadership. Ruthlessness doesn’t require you to be disagreeable. Ruthlessness requires you to take the emotions out of the decision. This is a healthy approach to successful leadership in the right context.

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