Is there an upside to assholes?

2007

Should the bad behavior of workplace bullies and jerks should be tolerated in the name of success? That's the contentious question posed in a thought-provoking manifesto by Robert Sutton, a professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford Engineering School and author of (the excellent) The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (Warner, 2007).

The unfortunate truth, he concludes, is that, yes, there are advantages to acting like an asshole (just ask such famous assholes as Steve Jobs of Apple), but the evidence shows that workplace assholes do far more harm than good.

Nevertheless, as he also points out, there is considerable evidence that anger and nastiness can help people gain more influence over others. For example, as we reported here on Management-issues back in 2003, Israeli research suggests that aggressive managers who blame others when things go wrong are more likely to get promoted than managers who feel guilty and accept responsibility for failure.

The same research found that it actually pays more for managers to get angry than for ordinary employees, and it pays more for men to get angry than women.

Thankfully, however, Sutton is quick to point out to would-be assholes that any effectiveness they might display is DESPITE rather than BECAUSE of them being a demeaning jerk.

Moreover, he says – and this is a sentiment most of us would share - " I believe that my life and the lives of the people I care about are too short and too precious to spend our days surrounded by jerks."

And if you are tempted down the asshole path, just remember this. "Your enemies are silent (for now), but the list keeps growing."

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Older Comments

Yes, it's sad - but true - in most corporations assholes get ahead. They bully to get results - and results get rewarded due to the quarterly pressures of Wall Street.

robert edward cenek, RODP www.cenekreport.com Uncommon Commentary on the World of Work

robert edward cenek, RODP Dillon, Montana

It takes all kinds to make the world go round. If you're a sissy, then jerks will push you around. But those same jerks will probably be the generals and leaders who keep you from living under a REAL jerk like Adolph Hitler. What's amusing to me is how nasty all you nice people will get by my simply stating my opinion. hmmm...think about that for a bit. I don't expect overly nice people to be like me; I don't allow jerks to abuse the innocent; and I'll fight to the death to protect you from a tyrant. But that's just my opinion.

Fred