Fool versus Jerk

by Jean Tower

In this article, Fool vs. Jerk: Whom Would You Hire?, the authors explain that the decision is complicated. People would like it if their work partners were both competent and likeable, but if they had to choose? The answer is not simple. They studied four organizations as they examined the question.

These two criteria—competence and likability—combine to produce four archetypes: the competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasant to deal with; the lovable fool, who doesn’t know much but is a delight to have around; the lovable star, who’s both smart and likable; and the incompetent jerk, who…well, that’s self-explanatory. These archetypes are caricatures, of course: Organizations usually—well, much of the time—weed out both the hopelessly incompetent and the socially clueless. Still, people in an organization can be roughly classified using a simple matrix.

A visual of the matrix might look like this.

In their research, everyone wanted to work with lovable and competent people and incompetent jerks were universally unwanted. But what about competent jerks and lovable incompetents?

People in position to hire said they value competence over likability, but in practice, the researchers saw something else. What they found was that feelings and relationships often trumped competence. No matter how talented the jerk is, people do not want to work with him or her. And if someone is likeable enough and develops good job-oriented relationships with co-workers, co-workers tend to seek out the all the competence the person has to offer.

I suggest you read the full article for the pros and cons of hiring people who are liked and who are like those already in the organization.

In the meanwhile, the article may prompt you ask yourselves some questions –
If all workplaces tend to choose likability over competence, schools probably are not exempt from that, right?
So, do we have educators who are well-liked by their colleagues, but may be less than effective?
(In, The Skillful Leader: Confronting Mediocre Teaching, I think this archetype is called Sally Friendly.)
How do they impact your school environment? collegiality? student learning?

In education, can we really totally separate the two qualities? Can a teacher be truly competent if they are a jerk? Doesn’t being a good teacher include building relationships with students?

Is your organization overrun either with likeable but mediocre people or competent jerks?

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