Don't Be a Jerk

Sometimes it's the little things that stick in my mind.

One time I went to a fancy New York hotel to interview a chief executive who was throwing this big shindig to launch a new product.

In between interviews, the guy was snapping at everyone. He was in a horrible mood. Yelling. Screaming. To this day, I don't know why. But to this day, I do remember how one of his aides reacted to him.

"The pompous ass is on the rampage," she said.

When I asked what was bugging him, I never forgot her answer:

"He just likes being mean," she said.

I never forgot that: A little person subjected to a lot of grief from a big ass. The big product he was launching proved a big flop. And soon he was a big casualty, pushed out, I suspect, still snapping and screaming at people. I don't know what brought him down. I do know the way he treated people didn't help.

I'm the last guy to give CEOs any career advice. But since I've chatted with thousands of them, here's my contribution: Don't be a jerk.

The best CEOs I've ever known weren't and aren't jerks. They don't constantly nag, or belittle, or rant, or rave.

The great ones I know have a great smile and an inner security. A lot of them have a great sense of humor and all of them have a great empathy for their people and their customers.

They say "hi" in the elevator and "thank you" to assistants.

One of the best I ever knew was Lee Iacocca, who opted for inspiring people, than intimidating people.

But that's just me.

The great ones are done in by not so great things. They say life is karma. Mean stuff comes back to bite you. Maybe all those nasty personnel issues are coming back to haunt Disney's Michael Eisner, or dictatorial ways coming back to haunt former New York Stock Exchange boss Dick Grasso.

I don't know. This much I do know: If I had a choice between working for a prince, or a putz, I'd choose the prince. Sure, he's demanding, but he beats the guy who's just demeaning.

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