I’ll be honest with you, this was a tough post to write because I’ve been guilty of exactly what the title suggests. There are times when I’ve been a jerk in my job—both in subordinate and leader relationships, and I’m not proud of any of those moments.
During my time as a student pastor, there’s one meeting I recall having with my boss when I felt I wasn’t being treated fairly. This pastor is a man who loves Jesus, and is someone who I’m friends with to this day (miraculously). In that meeting, I acted like a total jerk and actually used the phrase: “That’s why morale is so low in this crap-hole.” Yikes. Now you see why it is truly a miracle we are still friends, and that I was able to keep my job. I probably would not have been as gracious as he was.
There’s grace to grow.
The unfortunate thing about being a jerk in your job is that you rarely catch it ahead of time. It’s only after the inner jerk comes out that you realize, “Yikes, I’ve really made a mistake here, relationally.” I’m thankful for the grace that has been extended to me in work relationships, and I know that there will be grace for you in these instances as well.
Consequences? Yes. But also grace to continue learning and growing as a leader.
The trick is to begin catching the inner jerk before he/she comes out. I’ve learned from mistakes over the years, and I hope that you can learn from some of mine, as well, as you seek to stop the inner jerk.
It’s all in how you say it.
It’s often not what you say, but how you say it. This is something I’ve said countless times to my kids, and it rings true in work relationships, as well.
Tone and non-verbal communication are so important as you navigate difficult conversations. In these moments, my natural tendency is to go into bulldozer mode in an effort to solve a problem. While it is true that problems get solved in this manner, the conflict rarely ends without people being hurt along the way.
I’ve learned that I need to intentionally slow down and pay attention to those things as I communicate. Slowing down leaves space for me to remain calm, and also allows others to be heard, rather than dominated by my desire to solve problems and move on.
There’s no excuse for perception
How you perceive you’re being treated (wronged) in a situation isn’t an excuse to be a jerk. As Christian people, we are Spirit-filled people who should act according to the fruit of the Spirit. As I read scripture, there isn’t an exception to be found for being treated poorly.
Can you still be angry, frustrated, sad, and feel the full range of feelings about a situation? Absolutely, yes! And to be a healthy person, you should allow yourself to feel those feelings. I’ve found that when I push the feelings aside, the likelihood of the inner jerk exploding increases dramatically. Find a moment (or several moments) where you can sit and process your feelings about a situation, or connect with a trusted friend that you can process with. Once those feelings are felt, I’ve found it much easier to approach a situation with a sober, Spirit-filled mind.
Intensity gets things done, but care builds credibility.
Passion and intensity are also never excuses for being a jerk. As a passionate and intense leader, this is an area where I’ve struggled. Early on in my time at LifeWay, there was so much we needed to change, (with never enough time) and we were firmly in a turnaround environment.
I experienced a similar scenario when I showed up for my first day as a student pastor in Virginia: a lot to change, very little time, and the immediate need to turn things around.
I’ve actually come to enjoy these situations now because of the intense pace, leadership direction, and strategy needed. But here’s what I’ve learned on this one: not everyone will like your decisions, and leaders absolutely cannot be focused on making everyone happy. Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, once said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.” This sounds awesome, but the issue here is that Jobs, while famous for many great things, was also famously harsh and rude to coworkers. The truth is that people want a passionate and intense leader because it shows they believe in the mission they are espousing, but when that passion and intensity reveal a lack of care for people, leaders lose credibility.
Be a good leader, not a perfect one.
Leadership is a difficult and complicated task because it involves people’s opinions, feelings, and desires—all of which you have to be aware of. It requires boldness and care, intensity and gentleness.
You and I won’t be perfect leaders. There will be times where the inner jerk makes an appearance. When it does, good leaders own their mistakes, learn from them, and seek forgiveness. I hope that you can learn from some of the mistakes and prevent similar ones in your own leadership journey.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of LifeWay Students. Ben is passionate about investing in student ministry leaders like you. You can find more encouragement from Ben on his YouTube Channel, Student Ministry That Matters.