Top Five Qualities of an Asshole
“We have a no asshole policy at Baird.” (Beth Kavelaris, Director of Culture & Integration, Robert W. Baird & Co. at the Great Place to Work Annual Conference 2013)
I was impressed with Beth’s candor. Baird manages nearly $97 billion in client assets at more than 100 locations scattered around the globe.
“How do you define asshole?” a participant at the conference asked.
Beth said, “Everyone knows what an asshole is.”
I thought I’d check her theory by offering my list of asshole traits.
- Don’t know or don’t care that they’re assholes.
- Trample on feelings.
- Maintain rigid inflexibility.
- Smile to your face and stab you in the back.
- Live in self-centered worlds.
Bosses who tolerate assholes are bossholes.
Don’t be fooled by bossholes who smile and apologize for jerk-employees. I’ve known some very nice bossholes who allow others to feel the pain of working with assholes.
Bossholes care about the numbers
and neglect organizational culture.
Beth said our family culture at Baird makes us tolerate assholes too long.
It’s hard for nice people to confront “not so nice” people. Taken to an extreme, it’s dysfunctional. Families who tolerate and compensate for irresponsible behaviors are dysfunctional.
Too nice isn’t nice.
Another participant asked if assholes can be rehabilitated. Beth said we’ve learned that you can’t rehabilitate an asshole who won’t admit they are an asshole.
Added resource: “The No Asshole Rule,” by Bob Sutton
How do you define an asshole?
What suggestions can you offer for dealing with assholes?
Sometimes ya gotta call things exactly what they are in terms that everyone understands! Thanks for keeping it real (as always), Dan.
Keepin’ it real.
The very best resource on this subject is the book “The No Asshole Rule” by Stanford Professor Robert Sutton.
Thanks for adding a resource, Joe! Hard to imagine a Stanford Prof. using that word in the title of a book..
Great book Joe! One company mentioned in the book put it this way:
NO ASSHOLES ALLOWED. YOU CAN HAVE ONE, JUST DON’T BE ONE.
A man in your business must familiarize yourself with Bob Sutton’s work! I’ll pretty much guarantee that Bain took their phrase from him.
Amputation is the only cure. But bossholes who are too nice don’t like to amputate. So great employees are driven away.
Sad but true. Sorry for the pessimism this morning. But this one hits uncomfortably close to my past experience.
I was totally impressed with Beth’s acknowledgement of this idea. Some how nice people have to understand that tough love is part of love too.
Dan , Most all of the time I like your Blog and use your wisdom to further my leadership and My team. I have recommended your blog to many, including leaders on my high school team. However I have to say at a few points when you leave the professional and high road to use words that others can depict just as well, I am turned off and sometimes wish that I hadn’t encouraged some to visit. Please be aware of your audience.
I loved it.!! Please don’t change anything you present ! Charge ahead!
Thanks David. I definitely pushed it today. Appreciate your sensitivity to slang language and thank you for giving me your feedback. I respect you for that.
Dan, I appreciate your points as always. David, I also respect your point. When I work with people I encourage them to avoid names and focus on behaviors (see my response) in that names like this one exacerbates defensiveness and therefore ends productive communication. Behaviors are more productively discussed. I appreciate you both for your thoughts.
Dan, I have to admit when I read your lead-in, I was surprised. And I, too, appreciate David’s perspective. On the other hand, I believe the problem in the workplace with the sorts of people you describe in your post has been allowed to almost become epidemic. They are bullies of the worst sort, and if naming them is a way to get managers’ and leaders’ attention to take action about them, then I’m OK with it. The Emporer’s-New-Clothes-all-is-fine-when-it’s-really-not approach won’t work with them.
DAN, you just know how to start my day!!!!!!!!!! I really needed a great belly laugh!!!!!!!!!! You helped me AGAIN!!!!!!! Thank You!
I am selfish, selfish centered and driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, I step on the toes of fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt me, seemingly without provocation, but I invariably find that at some point in the past I have made decisions based on self which later placed me in a position to be hurt.
So my troubles, I think are basically of my own making. They arise out of myself and I am an extreme example of self-will run riot, though I usually do not think so. Above everything I must be rid of this selfishness. Can’t do it by myself, got to have help from the you know who Dude in the sky!(paraphrased)
Of course from the AA Big Book, my favorite part Chapter 5! Page 62 very very very special number to me.
I can if I choose to remember I am only upset if I am up-settable. No one upsets me but me in how I choose to understand and respond to what other people are doing. I no longer allow it. I do slip back from time to time at emotional times until I recover my emotional equilibrium.
Either THAT strategy or get everyone to do exactly like I think they would and the KICKER is if they would everyone would be HAPPY!
Hey ALL HUMANS, good luck with that strategy!!!!!! Dead Bang Loser Strategy, know it from experience, not gonna work.
So I am stuck just like with EVERYTHING else stuck with working on me and the way I see and perceive and respond to what is happening around me.
A-holes don’t bother me I am not around them much and they are with themselves ALL DAY LONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh the humanity!!!!
Shifterp(Scott) OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just doing my thing cause it is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hehe ps Due to Dan, found Daniel Pink who led me to Martin Seligman FLOURISH!!!!!!!!!! Just downloaded that book to listen and learn and apply…So much new interesting stuff I have learned because of you Dan. Eternally Grateful to you Sir.
Thanks for being a regular here and for leaving the most rambling comments ever! 🙂
Glad you got Daniel Pink’s book. It’s great… (To Sell is Human)
Great topic of the day Dan and needed! Sometimes being a leader means you need to be able to define, identify and discuss hard subjects such as boss holes. Thanks!
The Great Place to Work Conference gave me hope that organizations can create cultures where people love to work. 🙂
Thanks Dan for this reminder……and for appropriately addressing it.
@David Carnahan Can you point us to a blog, book or article which says something similar but in a more professional way? While I understand your comment, I would point out that different styles speak to different people so the occasional ‘earthy’ blog might speak to those whom relate to a different writing style.
@ Dan-I’ve been a fan of Sutton’s book since it was written. I have found an interesting trend, that boss holes often are big fans of that book and make their management teams read it and yet are the epitome of a being boss hole themselves!
Hi Tina, You reiterate what Beth said in her presentation. If they don’t or won’t see it…you can’t rehabilitate them. I’m running to look in the mirror again.
For nine months, I worked at an organization where my boss was an asshole, and her boss was a bosshole. In our small division of the asshole and three assistants, no fewer than 12 assistants had been through the division in four year’s time. Just before me an assistant who left won a settlement out of court from the organization on the grounds of a hostile work environment. (I only became aware of this after my employment was coming to a close.)
Beth is right that an asshole can only be rehabilitated of they as it to it. Mine would admit to some harsh tactics, but not full consider herself an asshole. The bosshole was concerned not only for numbers, which were good most of the time, but also for ingratiating himself to his superior, who liked the asshole very much.
When I realized very shortly after going to work there what kind of atmosphere I was inhabiting and what kind of asshole I had for a supervisor, I decided a couple of things:
1. I would remain positive, cordial and respectful in the face of any and all hostile and abusive treatment.
2. I would not “walk or egg shells” around my asshole supervisor.
3. I would do my job to the best of my ability, respecting the asshole supervisor’s position, even if I neve could ring myself to respect the asshole.
All of these things came to severely frustrate the asshole. When an asshole’s tactics are motivation through fear and intimidation, and those steps don’t work, they have nothing left. She really had no clue how to deal with me.
I voluntarily resigned at a natural lull in our industry’s calendar. Despite no request for it, the organization offered me a sizable severance package – with one caveat, of course: I had to waive my right to any jury trial in the future. This can only mean one thing: they know what they have on their hands.
After my severance period expired, I presented a two-page summary of my 36-page documentation of my experience to a VP. This is my last point: in defense of self, document everything.
Wow! Sad you experienced this but glad you shared your story. I hope everyone catches your last point.
Josh, thank you for this. I’ve been in many a same kind of situation, and now being self-employed, have some people I deal with who are the same way. People always ask why, even when people are being outright hostile to me, that I remain calm. A former coworker always said to me you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Excellent advice, Josh. It also defines my approach to any difficult situation. Be positive, cordial and respectful, but don’t walk on egg shells to avoid the issue and concentrate on getting the job done and not so much on the behaviour of people you can’t control anyway. Loved your final point too, document what you do! Stay safe, Paul
Thank you for yet another great post! I re-blogged this one.
Hey Dan – two thoughts… one – the picture on the cover is of a lovely donkey – who has none of the characteristics you describe..
Main question for another post – how do you spot one of these – so you can avoid them. Often the real A… appear very very nice on first contact and only show their stripes once someone has been hired. We can’t change the A and to keep a resume looking good most people stay in their positions for a couple of years – or could get stuck in a poor job market.
Almost all As have BossAs – or they would not be in the organization – it takes a real management shift to clear house.
So – for the ordinary folk who are looking for work – how do they detect one of these to avoid working for them? For those stuck with one – Josh’s suggestions are good – though they would apply to any leader.
I think Josh also points out the importance of documentation to back up any feedback you chose to offer at the end.
Thanks for defending the donkey.. 🙂 It was the best I could do on short notice. I certainly wasn’t going to post any pictures that more closely resembled the topic. 😉
How do you spot these types…such a great question. I’m going over to my facebook page to post it. “Leadership Freak Coffee Shop”
I completely agree bossholes often seem like nice people…perhaps that’s why they are successful. Good call
People who manage through fear and intimidation are assholes. Their unwillingness or inability to lead respectfully makes them assholes. So they yell, threaten, and intimidate to mask their true lack of leadership skills. I find this kind of assholish behavior the most intolerable.
Love it… why didn’t I put fear and intimidation on my list? Doh!
As for definition, what I add is they think of nothing but the bottom line. Hence the name.
Don’t be codependent with them waiting for them to change. Make public your feelings by confronting them professionally and honestly. They only pick up on what they perceive as strength. So, as you are speaking directly relate all negative ramifications of their bad behavior, their treatment of others, back to the bottom line. After all, that is their “baby”, so they think. The way to get started is in their language. And, here is the hard part, be as persistent as they are. Timing is key, but never let go of your commitment to a healthier culture.
You’re a brave person if you do what you advise. 🙂 Congrats.
Props for the “bottom line” comment!
I don’t know if I would call it bravery. But it at least falls into the category of “how much worse could it get.” As you know it’s an art to confront on this level. I don’t advise anyone to try it without appropriate skill building, falling into the category “don’t try this at home.” Thanks for the props:)
You are so right on the delicacy of exhibiting indelicate behaviors. A wise mentor or coach might be in order if you “need” your job. 🙂
Thanks Dan. That is one of the things I do actually. Now, as for the “wise” part I’d best leave tau up to the client. I deeply appreciate your wisdom.
Shifting paradigms tough work!
Really cool if you are prepared to get fired a bunch!
Then again stand up for something or get fired for anything….
Thanks for the comment. There is that and it needs to be considered. I like being able yo pay my bills too. It is really an art to confront and be appreciated for it. As they say, ” People leave people, not companies.” If a person does not deal with it they will become under-productive. If s/he is underappreciated they may leave. So, treating people badly has an huge negative impact ultimately back to the bottom line. Whew!
Assholes are quite inhuman in their dealings. They suppress people and always insist the things to be done in their line of thinking. Bossholes at times blindly support this kind of leaders since they are usually kept in dark and are wrongly convinced on the people’s inefficiency for the shortfall in results. However, the truth remains different where all decisions are taken based on assholes’ wishes.
There is no remedy to such kind of leadership which has a good shelter of the bosshole.
People get frustrated and leave the organization in disgust. No professional can work under such work environment. Assholes really smile on your face and backbite or exploit for the salary package given.
I am reminded of your recent post- ‘Connect or Die’. Assholes are like disconnected leaders who create dead organizations. I have had this unfortunate experience.
It’s better to have a direct curb on assholes and bossholes by periodic checks by the board. Things can get improvised if there is good transparency and freedom in communication and/or feedback system. People need to be trusted if the board wants long-term survival and the planned progress.
Frankly, a little of being annoying is needed sometimes, Dan. For example, in England we have two words: “ass” and “arse”. A hole for one would see the Democratic Party’s favourite animal in a pit. The other is where excrement comes from. Here in Britain, when someone is being an “arse” it means they are, metaphorically, “spouting” excrement. At least from one person’s point of view.
Of course, the problem is that one woman’s “A-hole” is another man’s wise-man. Noah, I suspect, looked like a bit of an “A-hole” to some people. That couple who walked out of Sodom having seen what the Sodomites did to innocent visitors to the “town” were doubtless “A-Holes” in the eyes of those who remained. Ooh, and a corporate example, the guys who split up Standard Oil and Bell were probably “A-Holes” in someone’s eyes too; as were those hunting the guys who enabled Enron to collapse or those hunting those who collected large bonuses before exiting large banks.
Elliott Ness was probably an “A-Hole” in the eyes of Al Capone.
So my view? Choose your excrement carefully. In the words of a certain chap from a film called “Love Actually”, some of it might turn out to be “solid gold”. And that, Dan, is the elephant in the room (strong enough to pull that ass out of a pit if and when it needs rescuing!).
In IT we get them often, and sometimes they are brilliant technicians.
Some need to learn, some don’t care.
Sometimes you just have to call an asshole an asshole. You cannot be afraid to confront them and give them the choice to look in the mirror and acknowledge their behavior or exit the organization. Too often we take the easy way out and allow the one rotten apple in the bunch to affect the bushel. Negativity breeds negativity and assholes breed more assholes. Stop the cycle and take a stand. There are already enough assholes out there.
wow you just discribed my former boss,and it is true that good employees flie the company because of a.s. people
Haha! The best post ever! No other word better describes an asshole like “asshole”.
I left my 36 year Career because of one Asshole, and many more good people have left because of the very same person.
I have a pet name for myself – “Alfhole” – because I can be a real “A-hole” at times. But I recognize it and work on it. I’m ten times the leader I used to be and about half of the one I’m going to be which is about halfway again towards the one I dream to be. In the meantime, people around me have stopped quitting (“quitting” often meant checking out) and have started helping me. I owe them much – they know who they are and many read this blog – thanks to all of you!
I enjoyed this piece a lot. As far as a definition, you might like to look at a piece I wrote in my own blog a few months ago titled “What Is It About A$$holes?”. Here’s a link
As far as rehabilitation possibilities, I doubt if there are any. Beth may be right that admitting it is step one to curing, but since a$$holes don’t know that they are a$$holes, rehab is a not possible. The cure would have to come before the rehab.
Reblogged this on MacCoach.
I’m thankful to my bossholes & asshole coworkers. They made me extremely uncomfortable and helped me take action to find much better jobs.
Howabout Preparation H for rehabilitation?
Dan, thanks for calling like it is. You can use any word you want to describe these people. It doesn’t matter, and it is very hard to do anything to stop them as they know how to “play the system” – some have elevating to an art form.
I do not think that these people can ever change! My advice is to get out as soon as you realize this as no matter what strategy you try, you will lose.
I worked for a well-know global consulting firm and because of these people, who were in management positions, 21 people out of our 60 person department resigned within an 18 month period – including me.
There is a reason why this old adage is still around:
“People join companies, but they leave people.
I’ve been working for an a-hole (I’ll use jerk from now on) who is enabled constantly by a bosshole, for almost 2 years now. – Picture a former high school bully who supervises about 50 people and is only answerable to his former high school victim. – I am well aware of how this arrangement precipitates dysfunction. I have personally felt the pain and disrespect of his “trampling of feelings”.
Here’s my problem; my current tyrant not withstanding, I respect tough bosses who don’t put the needs of peoples’ feelings above the needs of the company. I believe that work comes first. I’m not saying feelings are unimportant, just not most important. I’d like to be your friend, but I have a job to do first, ya know? I do not wish to trample anyone’s feelings, but they are not and cannot be my first concern.
Am I a jerk? Is my current suffering just a taste of my own medicine? How can I know? I don’t want to be a jerk, but I don’t think I’m wrong.
You just described in simple terms MLP at CP and LP of CP perfectly