Is there an upside to assholes?

Mar 30 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

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 Ė 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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