Mar 24, 2022 - Economy

Learning good lessons from bad people

Illustration of a coffee mug with the Axios logo with steam forming a thought bubble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While most people are good and generous, some are real, unrepentant, unfixable jerks.

Why it matters: A good hack for leadership and life: Study the jerks, the people who do the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and do the opposite. Then, purge them from your life.

  • It’s easy to be inspired by acts of great heroism or actions. But, many of my defining memories often come from witnessing baffling or bad human behavior.
  • In fact, at Axios, we made being routinely self-centered, petty or mean a fast fireable offense. In making this clear in words and actions, we have mostly eliminated the mischief-making and back-biting all of us witness at school, work and relationships.

Here are the truisms that guide our philosophy:

  1. Badness trickles down — fast. Any bad habit in a group or company can be traced to someone at the very top. You see this at schools, jobs and on sports teams.
  2. Bad habits are insanely contagious. One reason we prohibit people at Axios from talking crap about colleagues is witnessing how free others then feel to do the same.
  3. Behind most bad behavior lurks deep insecurity. Beware of those who surround themselves with people with bad characters or limited talent. This flows from insecurity.
  4. Don’t be delusional about our species. It is so tempting to try to see a path for someone who is routinely selfish or petty or untrustworthy to change. Most fully formed humans set in long patterns don’t. Run.
  5. We all need a DJ. We have a longtime colleague, Danielle Jones, who has a sixth sense for spotting bad eggs. And she isn’t shy about holding us accountable. Find people of high character and trust — and listen to them.

DJ is our talent whisperer and heart-and-soul of our company. These are the tells she looks for in spotting problematic people:

  • Lack of humility
  • Lack of authenticity
  • Favoring personal ambition over the greater good
  • Taking yourself too seriously

The big picture: Good bosses, company and friends are everywhere. Live life in perpetual pursuit of them. Purge the others.

🏁 Editor's note: This article appeared first in Axios Finish Line, a new newsletter in the Axios Daily Essentials package.

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