Karin’s Leadership Articles

To All the (Jerky) Managers I've Known Before

by | Jul 27, 2015 | By Karin Hurt, Communication |

I had asked the group to share their teachable point of view on leadership in the form of a TEDdy Talk (e.g. “learn to improve your speaking Karin Hurt style”.) Ultimately everyone would have their 5 minutes of TEDdy Talk fame, but tonight we were just practicing “Wow” openings. “Carrie,” who hadn’t said a heck of a lot before this, stood up and gave the most impassioned imitation of a horrible boss I’ve ever heard– as her “wow” opener. “Why can’t you do anything right!” She screamed (pretending to be her bully boss). “Everyone tells me you are smart, but I just can’t see it!”

And then she shared: “This was my morning today.”

The entire room fell silent.

After giving her a hug and a copy of my Overcoming an Imperfect Boss book, I realized I’ve never dealt with that. Close…but by that time that jerk surfaced her ugly head,  I was too seasoned for that crap. This was “Carrie’s” first serious job and she knew it was wrong. She planned to leave my book on his desk the next day as a conversation starter. (I know… I’ve already said a little prayer.) Either way, growth comes through bravery.

My Best Communication Advice For Jerky Bosses

I know you’re out there. There’s a reason my “Dealing with Difficult People” course has a waiting list (note pretty much all anyone wants to do is talk about their bosses).  But I also know there’s a bat’s chance in hell the bad guys are reading this.

So it’s up to the good guys to spread the word.

If you’re looking to help someone turn their temper into a productive conversation, here’s a process to leave subtly on their desk.

Start Here

First, I’m going to assume you are right, and that your frustration is well-founded. Someone did something stupid after at least 17 times of you trying to help them. You didn’t START thinking they’re stupid, but now you’re starting to wonder. What do you do next?

1. Connect

Connecting gives your adrenaline time to chill. Remembering you’re talking to another human being will go a long way in ensuring a productive solution.

2. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t sugarcoat. State the problem and implications clearly. Most folks appreciate calm, straight talk.

3. Inspire Confidence

What you need right now is people who believe they can fix this, not bruised egos doubting their abilities. Be specific about why you believe they can do this.

4. Ask Questions (and LISTEN) to the Response There’s likely more to this situation than you understand. Slow down, ask open-ended questions and then shut up and really listen to the response. Repeat.

5. Link to the Bigger Picture: Explain why this matters. Provide context. People always work harder when they know why.

6. Set a Clear Goal: Be clear about what must happen next and by when.

7. Involve Them In the Solution: You need as many brains as possible to fix this. Include them.

8. End on An Encouraging Note: There’s a reason that half-time locker room speeches work. Be sure they leave inspired to go-get-this, not fearful of what will happen when they don’t.

No one wants to be a jerky boss. If you know someone who lets their reaction get in the way of their leadership, do us all a favor, and pass this post along.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Terri Klass

    I think you and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to ideation. I too wrote about facing difficult people in my blog today.

    Jerky bosses are always going to be part of our lives. I once had a boss who would set a meeting up with me and then proceed to do many other tasks at the same time. It made me so mad and I felt so unimportant. I tried to focus the agenda and work around his ADD behavior but it was very frustrating. What I learned to do was keep these meetings short and prepare a bunch of material ahead of time for him to review.

    Thanks Karin!

  2. Wencan Fan

    Thank you Karin! It is a very useful topic. Everyone may have a chance to meet jerky bosses, and this blog definitely helps me in getting prepared for communicating with jerky bosses. Thanks a lot for the advice, and it is very clear and helpful.

    • Karin hurt

      thanks so much. Great to have you joining the conversation.

  3. LaRae Quy

    I’ve survived under several “jerky” supervisors.

    One assumption that is important NOT to make is that the supervisor realizes their “jerkiness.” Although it seems unimaginable, many leaders and supervisors are not aware of their stupid and childish behavior. Since the way to success is moving forward, I have had to navigate a variety of egos and naitvity…but what is most important to first determine is whether the supervisor is mean spirited in their approach.

    In the vast majority of situations, they are simply unaware. This lack of self awareness and emotional intelligence is at the root of their behavior. If so, they are (sometimes) teachable.

    I have found that by taking the extra effort to understand where they are coming from and the intent behind their (jerky) behavior, it can unravel a lot of misgivings and frustration…

    • Karin hurt

      LaRae, you raise such an important point here. That’s why I’m such a big fan of 360 degree assessments. Thanks for extending the conversation in this meaningful wqy.

  4. Dallas Tye

    Another worksheet/check-list Karin. How generous.

    I can’t add anything to it; its terrific.
    I will add a quick story of my own just to show you how important your work is-

    I was successful in applying for a new role, and went down to see my soon-to-be manager who was one of the three on the interviewing panel. She returned my thanks by saying “well you weren’t my first choice (but apparently I was her boss’s first choice) but I’ll try to make the best of it.”

    Wow, just wow. Monday would be interesting.

    Rang her boss to discuss this and he just laughed.

    Double wow. The next many Mondays were interesting; until a role came about elsewhere.

    • Karin Hurt

      Dallas, So great to have you back! That story is horrible, and the sad truth is I’ve heard it before. Why say crap like that? It does nothing to improve results or build relationships. That’s why we need to keep telling these stories.

  5. Jeremy Draper

    I’ve had a few interesting bosses in my career and I have found that just by including them in the discussions about a project or getting their input while offering a solution works well. It helps them to feel like they are contributing to the solution and are giving me valuable insight into what they have done in past situations.

    • Karin Hurt

      Jeremy, I so agree! Bosses are people too. Creating connection goes a long way… even with a jerky one.

  6. Alli Polin

    Not a lot to add except I hope that this makes this into the hands of jerky bosses everywhere.

    One time in my career I was with a group of other VPs and we were in a huddle with the SVP we all reported to and she was stressed. I had a very strong relationship with her and watched her rip a hole in my two colleagues, both seasoned leaders. I’d never seen anything like it before. After the meeting, at the bar, I pulled her aside and played back the scene from a bystander POV. She didn’t know that was how her stressed spilled over. She thought she was hiding the itensity of her frustration. We talked about letting her leadership team in on her challenges so we could all create solutions and she wouldn’t be in it alone. I wonder how many jerky leaders who yell need to start with someone willing to tell them the truth and hold up a mirror.

    ~ Alli

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, Thanks so much for sharing your story. We just talked about this in my MBA class tonight. If you start from a place of connection and genuine support, it’s amazing how receptive folks are to hear, learn and grow.


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