Monday, August 16, 2010

There Is No Upside In Being A Jerk


The world is full of jerks. But it must be some kind of innate instinct, because there is no upside to being a jerk.

One of the first questions I ever responded to on Quora asked if being nice was an advantage for VCs. The consensus was that success trumps affability, and that entrepreneurs would rather take money from an asshole with the Midas Touch than an ineffectual saint.

But while folks seem eager to write off the benefits of likeability, they seem to overlook the utter lack of benefits for jerkiness.*

* There is one famed advantage of being a dick--at least a according to pick-up artists, who claim that putting women down is the key to making them more vulnerable to seduction. Or, as my friend Andrew (no slouch in the seduction department in his younger days) put it, "Chicks dig two things. Monet, and assholes."

Just because it isn't always a crippling disadvantage doesn't mean that superdickery is the secret to success. Unless you've got a darn good reason for being a jerk (beyond "I'm Keith Hernandez!") you'd be wise to opt for kindness.

Just this summer, we've seen two major figures, one from the world of sports, and one from business, whose jerk moves cost them dearly.

Before this summer, LeBron James was the most popular player in the NBA.

In a single one-hour TV special, he turned himself into the most hated figure in the game by breaking up with his hometown on national television and revealing himself as a raving egomaniac who was "taking his talents to South Beach," rather than simply "signing a contract with the Miami Heat."

In retrospect, perhaps the giant "Chosen One" tattoo he wore across his back was a warning sign.

When he replaced Carly Fiorina as CEO of HP, Mark Hurd was considered the anti-celebrity CEO, a guy who would place company ahead of self. And he succeeded magnificently.

When he took over, HP was a printer company with a languishing computer business. Today, HP is the world's largest technology company (ahead of IBM) with leadership in computing and services, while HP's profit and stock price have skyrocketed.

But in a shocking turn of events, Hurd was forced to resign after a scandal involving a sexual harassment lawsuit, erroneous expense reports, and an unprofessional relationship with a "consultant" who also appeared on a cougar-oriented reality TV show.

It probably didn't help his cause that personal friend (and famed philanderer) Larry Ellison leaped to his defense with a very public rebuke of the HP board.

The funny thing is, if you strip away the jerk behavior, LeBron and Mark Hurd's actions weren't enough to justify tarring and feathering.

LeBron was a free agent, and had a right to choose where to play. In going to the Miami Heat, he accepted less money and a lesser role in order to maximize his chances of winning a championship. It was the way he announced his decision--a true jerk move--that brought down the scorn of the nation.

Similarly, Mark Hurd was cleared of the harassment charges by an internal investigation, and everyone involved seems to agree that there was no sexual relationship. Rather, it was the sin of erroneous expense reports--for barely $20,000, a drop in the bucket in comparison to his multi-million dollar salary--that lead to his downfall.

I have no idea why LeBron and Hurd did what they did. I suspect that it was a mix of entitlement (how often does an NBA superstar or Fortune 500 CEO hear the word "No"?) and hubris ("I'm LeBron James!"). But I do know this:

1) Being a jerk didn't provide them with any real benefits

2) Being a jerk did lead directly to their fall from grace

So the next time you're tempted to indulge your inner Keith Hernandez, ask youself, "What's the upside in being a jerk?"

2 comments:

@toppundit said...

Lot of upside when you're a boss. People hop. And that's fun to watch.

Chris said...

True, but where's the lasting benefit?