• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

'Lovable Fools' With Soft Skills & 'Competent Jerks' With Hard Skills

Lovable fools are always a liability in the long run while the competent jerks are an asset. It is good for the leaders to work with jerks than with fools who are poor performers

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


"With hard skills, you can manage your boss; and with soft skills, you can lead your boss." - Professor M.S. Rao, Father of 'Soft Leadership'

We come across various types of personalities in the workplace such as introverts and extroverts; performers and non-performers; and lovable fools and competent jerks. What kind of personality you are and with what kind of people do you prefer to work and lead? Do you prefer to work with lovable fools or with competent jerks? Do you prefer to lead competent jerks to lovable fools? As people are different with different mindsets, attitudes and behaviors, leaders are different with different leadership styles. Whatever the emotions, egos or feelings of the individuals may be and the style of leaders may be, the end result must be to ensure customers satisfaction and improve organizational bottom lines.

Although people appreciate working with lovable fools than with competent jerks, the leaders prefer working with competent jerks. Lovable fools ensure your short-term survival whereas competent jerks ensure your long-term success. These are the days of knowledge workers where specific mindset, tool set and skill set are required to succeed in the workplace. Lovable fools prove to be costly in the long run. Hence, majority of the leaders prefer working with competent jerks, not with lovable fools who prove to be counterproductive. Here is a case study on Susan and Ron where Susan was a lovable fool while Ron was a competent jerk.

Susan and Ron - A Case Study on a Lovable Fool and Competent Jerk
Susan and Ron worked in a prestigious business school who reported to the Dean regularly. Susan was extrovert by nature and a poor performer. Whenever challenges arose she held others as scapegoats and often flattered her boss - dean. In contrast, Ron was introvert who emphasized performance, not flattery. Susan frequently appreciated dean whenever she met and dean was comfortable with her appreciation but he was not satisfied with her performance as her feedback from students was not up to the standards. Ron always got excellent feedback from students and stayed in his office to do research. Susan met various people in the business school to spend time whereas Ron interacted mostly with students in the classroom and utilized the rest of the time to do research in his office. For dean, Susan looked like a lovable fool whereas Ron appeared like a competent jerk. Although dean was comfortable with Susan's pleasing and flattering behavior, he was not happy with her performance. In contrast, dean was happy with the Ron's academic performance but unhappy as the latter hardly socialized with others and appreciated the former. Due to recession, the admissions to the business school dropped and dean was asked to remove either Susan or Ron from employment. Who should the dean remove - Susan or Ron?

Level 5 Leaders and Knowledge Workers
When you look at level 5 leaders, they don't mind who gets credit for their contribution. They deliver their best without looking for recognition. They work for their satisfaction, not for recognition. They mainly care for the organizational outcome. They hardly care for their personal and professional equations with their team members. Hence, the level 5 leaders prefer competent jerks to lovable fools as they are aware that most of the knowledge workers fall in the category of competent jerks.

Lovable fools are always a liability in the long run while the competent jerks are an asset. It is good for the leaders to work with jerks than with fools who are poor performers. The competent jerks enhance productivity and performance to improve organizational bottom lines. Additionally, good leaders appreciate that organizational interests are superior to their personal interests and egos. In the present global business environment, it is the knowledge workers who rule. And most of the knowledge workers prove to be competent jerks. Hence, leaders must develop adequate emotional intelligence to manage the egos, emotions, and feelings of jerks to lead from the front.

Jack Welch - A Competent Jerk
Leaders must learn to work with sharks, not ordinary fishes. They must strive to become big fishes in big ponds rather than remain as big fishes in small ponds. Jack Welch was an inspiring leader who preferred to work with competent jerks. He ruthlessly removed lovable fools and poor performers as he himself was a competent jerk. He enjoyed leading competent jerks to take GE to great heights globally. He grew as a great leader globally because of his straightforward and extrovert leadership style. As a result, he earned nickname as 'neutron Jack' initially. Subsequently he overcame that impression and built an international brand for himself as a successful CEO.

Organisations hire employees to bring their expertise, knowledge, skills and abilities to improve bottom lines. Keeping that objective in view, we must view the performance of the people rather than their personal behaviors. Hence, leading competent jerks is always advisable than the lovable fools who prove to be disasters ultimately.

Lead Lovable Fools with Soft Skills and Competent Jerks with Hard Skills
It is essential to work with likable people who are competent. But it is hard to find. We can compare likable people with soft skills as they know how to connect with others with their interpersonal skills. We can compare competence as hard skills as it is essential to deliver goods effectively in the workplace. Hence, there must be a judicious blend of both hard and soft skills to lead effectively. Such people are usually called lovable stars in the workplace. If there is a dearth of such lovable stars, then lead lovable fools with soft skills and competent jerks with hard skills.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
leadership Soft leadership soft skills opinion

Professor M.S. Rao

Professor M.S.Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of ‘Soft Leadership’ and Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with 35 years of experience and the author of 30 books including the award-winning ‘21 Success Sutras for CEOs’

More From The Author >>