Needed: Leaders, Not Jerks!

Command-and-control leadership is not healthy, and it is not going to work in the new reality work environment. Now is the time to learn how to lead in ways others want to follow.

In December 2021, Vishal Garg, founder and CEO of online mortgage company fired roughly 900 of his workers via Zoom. The New York Times (January 18, 2022), quoted Garg as saying, “If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off.” In a recording that was shared widely online, Garg told his workers, “Your employment here is terminated effective immediately.”

While his board required Garg to “take time off” from his role, he has returned. It is uncertain if Garg has changed. This will be a classic Harvard case study for years to come for the lessons to be learned. Why would Garg believe this is the best way to deliver such a powerful message?

The Great Resignation saw a record high of 4.5 million Americans voluntarily leave their jobs in November 2021. But a better description for what is happening might be the Great Re-Assessment. The pandemic gave employees the time to reassess their lives. They’re questioning putting up with toxic environments and jerky bosses. Unfortunately, it is not illegal to be a jerk or bully in the workplace, but now it will be harder to retain and attract top talent. In many industries, there has been a shift in power between boss and worker.

The Perfect Storm

2020 was a perfect storm of chaos—pandemic, Black Lives Matter (BLM), and MeToo# movement—causing organizational leaders to scramble in addressing pressing issues. In the process, leadership development got pushed aside and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) took precedence. But making the best decisions regarding all of these issues involves communicating clearly (and often) and interacting compassionately with others.

In my book, “Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts,” one chapter is titled “Leaders Don’t Let Ego Win.” I don’t think most people wake up and try to be a bad leader—a jerk. When under stress and uncertainty, the dark side of the ego (shadow) can take over. The shadow manifests itself in a variety of negative behaviors such as manipulation, greed, jealousy, micromanaging, defensiveness, and control.

Greatest Enemy: Ego

When I interviewed Jim Autry, author and former Fortune 500 executive, he told me “The greatest enemy for people is ego.” He said we need to use compassion and empathy to overcome an ego that wants to control us. These values guide us toward understanding the other person rather than trying to compete with them.

“We often follow the wrong role models,” Autry explained. “We have failed to shut up and listen. We often fail to think deeply before we act… There seems to be an obsession with self and money—too much emphasis on developing our own personal brand and influencers. The real influencers should be servant leaders who embrace relationships, are supportive and compassionate, yet accountable.”

Design Jobs People Want to Do

Marcus Buckingham has a new book: “Love + Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life.” In a recent Webinar sponsored by Harvard Business Review, Buckingham explained how we have designed “loveless work.” Much discussion is about the location of where work will get done—office, home, or hybrid. But the focus should be on designing jobs that people want to do. He advocates for leaders to intentionally connect with people, which “happens in the hearts and minds rather than in the office.”

Buckingham previously worked at Gallup, so his research centers on employee engagement. During this Great Re-Assessment, he believes employees are seeking growth and development as a precursor to contribution and commitment.

The bottom line is this: Command-and-control leadership is not healthy, and it is not going to work in the new reality work environment. Now is the time to learn how to lead in ways others want to follow. Don’t be a jerk or bully. Get your ego out of the way. Connect with people. Buckingham reminds us that “connection is not about where you are working, but how you act in your heart.” Be a leader and develop other leaders people want to follow.

Jann E. Freed
Jann E. Freed, PhD, is an author, speaker, coach, and leadership development consultant. Her forthcoming book is “Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering” (Routledge Publishing, 2023). For more information, visit