Why Most Bosses Are Self-Absorbed and How Not To Be a Jerk

Who was the best boss you ever had? What made him or her so good?

Cheryl Bachelder

Popeye’s CEO Cheryl Bachelder likes to pose that question. In a recent interview Bachelder said,

“I started to wonder what it would be like if you led the way you want to be led, if you were the boss you wanted to work for. It’s a fascinating conversation to have with people – asking them to describe the ideal qualities of a boss. They always say, “They took time with me, took risks with me, they taught me and had my back.” Then I ask, “Are you that boss to someone today?” Their face freezes because they’ve never thought about it that way. That’s human nature. We’re wired to be selfish 2-year-olds. But we have to fight our nature and be the boss we want to work for.”

Ouch. Sadly, this rings true to what many of us have experienced, including Bachelder who told Womenetics writer Patty Rasmussen,  “In my own career I’ve observed a lot of leaders in large corporate America and, frankly, have been desperately disappointed in the caliber of leaders of my generation, my peer group. That reached a crescendo for me about 12 to 15 years ago. I found American leaders self-absorbed and selfish, always focused on getting a bigger jet, more stock, bigger houses. It’s all about them.”

Bachelder says, “I’ve observed the impact that (attitude) has on the organization. No one is motivated by your personal ambition    no one cares about your personal ambition. They care about a greater purpose, doing something that matters and working for someone who cares about them.”

Expecting employees to be motivated to help the executives increase their bonus is like Popeye Chickenexpecting the pigs to be excited about helping the farmer produce more bacon.

The problem is that most executive compensation is singularly directed at personal gain.

Senior leader compensation is usually tied to stock price. It makes sense in theory, if the company performs better the CEO and other leaders should be rewarded.

But here’s what happens in practice: Because stock prices fluctuate with quarterly earnings, an executive trying to meet a short-term number to achieve his or her bonus, is more likely to focus their own ambition rather than the larger company purpose.

The incentive programs often create the very behavior that Bachelder aptly describes as a “selfish 2-year-old.” The competition becomes who can score the biggest bonus versus who can create an organization that lasts.

So how do you fix the problem? At a strategic level, it starts with the CEO and board.

Bachelder took a longer view at Popeyes. She asks the question: “Do you have a purpose for leadership that’s greater than your own ambition? Do you get up every day focused on serving those that have been entrusted to you?”

Her leadership team’s purpose is to drive value for their largest most important customers, their franchisees.  Read “Bachelder’s blog, www.The  for Four ways to put your purpose to the test.”

Focusing on being the kind of franchisor (boss) a franchisee would like to have, shifts the focus from self-interest to serving others.

The result is huge growth. Popeyes has become the most profitable restaurant chain in America.

It’s funny what happens when executives rise above selfish instincts. Being the kind of boss you wish you had isn’t just the nice thing to do, it’s the profitable thing to do.