How to Spot a Jerk Boss

A buddy of mine is working for a jerk. Unfortunately, he feels economically trapped at the moment, so he’s suffering through it. The question that keeps going through his mind is: “How come I didn’t spot this when I interviewed?”

He’s not stupid or inexperienced. But, he wasn’t looking at the right things. He was looking at the company, the job, and the compensation; not the boss. Of course, the boss is the most important thing a lot of the time. In fact, the boss is cited as the number one contributor to why someone leaves his or her job.

One of the things that I’m always curious about is how to figure it out earlier. Baseball players, the really good hitters, can figure out the pitch at the top of the wind up. And meteorologists predict hurricane seasons a year in advance. But how do you predict jerks? It’s not like they necessarily look like jerks.

To answer that question, my friend and I are working on a list of ways to spot jerks earlier. Here’s what we have so far…

1. How do they talk about their wife, kids, family (if they do at all)?
2. How do they talk about the last person who held your job?
3. Ask them to show you the reports that they will be managing you with—if they have too many, the wrong ones or don’t have reports at all, that’s a bad sign.
4. Ask them what they read or listen to for brain food. If they don’t read/listen to anything—that’s another bad sign. If they do, but can’t tell you how they’re working it into their leadership and management style, that’s another bad sign.
5. Ask him or her to describe the best qualities of the five key reports who will report to you. If they can’t, or don’t know, or pick out only personality traits: bad sign.
6. Find out their “claim.” Every senior person has a “claim.” It’s some event in their career that they feel defines the highpoint in their work. What is the claim and how did they achieve it? If the story lacks other people, or puts them in the success alone and everyone else including their subordinates as the enemy: bad sign.
7. How are they organized? Is their office, briefcase, wallet or schedule a mess? If it is, you will be picking up the slack as far as last minute requests, double-booked appointments, missing reports and misunderstood requirements.
8. Ask them the behavioral traits that they liked of the best person who ever worked for them. If they match yours, good sign. If not, well, you get it.

This is my quick list. Do you have anything to add?