Under Your Skin

Under Your Skin

By Terry Starbucker

Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie is a business consultant, strategist, and coach based in Portland, Ore. From his blog.

I once had a boss that would fly into a rage if we used smooth paperclips instead of ridged ones. Never quite understood the problem, but after a couple of chew-outs, you can bet I stuck with the ridged ones.

We all have them—those annoyances that really gnaw at us, affectionately known as pet peeves. Most are petty and not worth much time or deep discussion. That is, except for one in particular.

Leaders need to have a pet peeve about jerks.

You know them. The ones with the attitudes. They disrupt. They snicker. They smirk. They throw cold water over just about everything (except their own perceived brilliance). And the world revolves around them.

They may be smart, but they infest a room with negativity just by walking into it. Worse yet, they can sabotage progress and become a real threat to the effectiveness of your leadership.

This kind of behavior just has to get under a successful leader's skin. You have to develop an extreme distaste for it. It cannot be tolerated, and as a leader, you need to let that intolerance be known. Even get a little prickly about it.

I was never known as much of a “yeller” as a leader, but this pet peeve pumped up the volume for me on several occasions, and in hindsight, it was the right thing to do. Negativity is a poison, and jerks seem to revel in it.

Of course, the ultimate way to battle this pet peeve is to not hire them in the first place. I love Netflix CEO Reed Hasting's motto, which he puts right out in public: “There's no room for brilliant jerks.“ So go ahead, let this one get under your skin—and stay there.

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The Conference Board Review is the quarterly magazine of The Conference Board, the world's preeminent business membership and research organization. Founded in 1976, TCB Review is a magazine of ideas and opinion that raises tough questions about leading-edge issues at the intersection of business and society.