I’ve been in the process of getting our house ready to sell, so while I was in the garage painting doors, I queued up the audiobook for Robert Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule. Read on, for a synopsis and my very thoughtful opinion.
For the most part, assholes ruin everything. Mostly. There are numerous examples of assholes who were around because they were a top performer. However, when they were ejected from the company, overall performance more than made up for their unique performance and other secondary effects like people not feeling like they were in a hellscape.
My plan in this article is to say asshole as many times as I can.
The author describes assholes in two ways. First, there is an occasional asshole. Occasional assholes are people who have bad days and act like jerks. In other words, it is out of character for them. Next are the certified assholes and the subject of the book. Certified assholes are jerks regularly and target those with less power than themselves.
That last point is a key reason many assholes hide so well in companies, in my opinion. If assholes mostly hurt people beneath them, those with power above to stop them rarely see or have enough cause to step in.
Another note about assholes is that if you’re in a place and around assholes often, you’ll adopt asshole behavior yourself. Neat!
What To Do?
Well, the author pleads that companies adopt a rule preventing assholes from continuing their existence. In other words, create a moral imperative around a culture of respect and quick action when an asshole breaks the rule.
Maybe I should give an example. A company adopts the rule, and people say someone is an asshole. That person is now required to sort their asshole behavior out or leave.
More practically, what do you do when a company is all talk and no action? If you work near assholes, it is helpful to reframe what you experience. For example, instead of being a shitty circumstance, it is a game to play where you watch an asshole prolapse. Withdraw from your job emotionally to reduce the trauma. Respond to most communications with, “Oh, let me look into that, and I’ll get back to you,” but don’t.
Ultimately, if you can, leave. If you can’t, create a way to survive intact. Look for much smaller victories and small areas of control. Find smaller versions of what you’ve lost.
Acting like an asshole tactically is viable in most companies as well. A tactical asshole knows when to hurt people to get better results.
The author provides numerous examples of assholes who are smart enough to use that trait as a tactical advantage.
One example that stands out is a story from the author about needing immediate service at an airport, but everyone ignores them. He turns into an asshole for about 30 seconds and resolves the issue.
This book is great. It covers more than I did in my attempt to write asshole a bunch. There are enough assholes in the world where knowing what is in the book will not only help you survive but if enough people read it, maybe we won’t need its advice anymore.
Read it, then send your assholes to the competition.