Thursday, May 23, 2013

My thoughts on "The No Asshole Rule"

Flying out to CA this week (I'm actually waiting for the flight home), this my last trip before the big move.  Kind of crazy but I'm excited for the challenge and adventure of working out in the Valley.  Sitting next to this great guy who's writing a book, motivated me to blog which I finally finished…..clearly Candy Crush wasn't really getting it done for me.

Ok, so this blog has been a long time coming…..kind of like all most posts lately but I'm pretty excited about this one.  For those of you hoping for lots of personal war stories and jokes about experiences I've had…sorry, those stories only get told over beers.  Anyway, Dr Robert Sutton wrote this book a few years back and has written extensively on the topic of assholes in the workplace.  Now, we've all seen them…frankly of you reading this (probably the guy writing it) have been accused of being an asshole.  Look, work is work….I get it.  That being said, work is not supposed to be torture and I have to say the whole idea of a "No Asshole Rule" is just amazing.  Anyway, the format for this review will be like my other posts, a few quotes followed by my take on how you can relate this to your job search or career. Ok, let's have some fun with what honestly is a very serious topic

First, let's define "asshole" as it's defined in the book to make sure we are all on the same page.  Sutton defines an asshole as "people who demean and damage others, especially those with relatively little power". Damn right….

With the definition in hand….here are a few thoughts that jumped out at me

Don't replace assholes with wimps and polite clones (16) - Amen, a-freaking-men.  Few things worse than working with wimps….you want to work with really smart, strong willed people who know how to get shit done.  Bonus points if you think they are cool and want to have out with them after work…but that's not a requirement.  The only thing worse than wimps….working in a place with tons of wimps and tons of assholes.  Alas ,that's probably another blog post or a story for beers…

Ignore job candidates quirks and strange mannerisms, to downplay socially inappropriate remarks, and instead to focus on what people could actually do (18)
- Here Sutton is talking about some of the research he's done with companies that hire amazing talent.  I think this is a key thought and a really important element to team building.  You want to have a smart, diverse and hardworking team.  Diverse means lots of things…..but most of all, it means focusing on what people can contribute to the team and not worrying as much about petty quirks or mannerisms.

The different between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know (25) - God I love this line, I mean…seriously, LOVE this.  Any recruiter worth their salt will tell you the same thing.  I've interviewed thousands of people through my career and there are a few Grade A primo assholes who stand out.  Some of them, I remember their names….some I just remember the story but the interesting point….most of them were not assholes to the people they'd work for.  They were only an asshole to the recruiter.  Lucky for me, in most cases I had a seat at the decision table and those folks didn't join the company but honest, if you take one thing away from this blog or book…take this like because it is universally true especially in the workplace.

What is your organizations "Total Cost of Assholes" (44-51) - TONS of meat here so I'll avoid getting into the weeds but the point….assholes cost you money.  They are bad for business.  People quit, people call in sick, people are less motivated to work hard for a boss or team they think are a bunch of assholes.  What's more, in today's hyper connected social media world…assholes can ruin your companies reputation and deny you of truly great talent that every organization needs to be successful.  Assholes are expensive corporate overhead that you just don't need.

Asshole poisoning is a contagious disease that anyone can catch (99)
- Seriously, I love this book.  We've all seen it,  Bill works for Jeff (who's an asshole) and all of a sudden now Bill is an asshole too.  Life is too short to put up with this kind of thing, honestly, if you find yourself in a culture of assholes that tolerates "asshole poisoning" just get out of there.  Find a new gig, find place that will value you and inspire you to do great things.  The last thing you want in your career is to get a reputation as an asshole because you stuck around too long and ended up getting "asshole poisoning"….it's like food poisoning only worse.

If you expect that one beautiful day, all those assholes will suddenly apologize to you, begin begging for your forgiveness, or at least start treating you with respect, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration (134) - This kind of goes along with the thoughts above, but honestly….assholes don't change.  They don't evolve, and they don't get better.  It's not like one day they wake up and have an epiphany to reform.  The only way to make your career (and ultimately your life) better is to get the hell out of that culture

You don't have to act like a jerk to have a successful career or lead a successful organization (171) -
This is another point I've found to be universally true in my career.  Great leaders don't have to be a jerk.  In my experience, the best "person" usually does the best job and attracts amazing talent to make them even better.  Now, this is not to say you don't have to be a jerk sometimes or hold the line on your convictions…you do.  The key, is doing it in a respectful and thoughtful manner so people don't think your an asshole….they leave thinking you're a strong leader who can convince others to your way. 

Why assholes fool themselves - (176-177) - Again, this is a huge meaty section of the book which will really ring true if you've ever worked for an asshole.  To me, the best thing Sutton says here is that frequently organizations are successful despite rather than because of the asshole.  I think this really fuels some people to think their leadership is the "right" method…….anyway, this blog is getting long…buy the book and read these two pages.  You'll thank me.

Ok, final thoughts on this book.  Obviously, I loved it.  There are a ton of other great tips in the book so definitely give it a read if you have time.  I've been fortunate in my career to work in some amazing places that just don't tolerate assholes.  Sutton book is meant to be a tool for people and companies to develop and enforce a "No Asshole Rule" that works for the organization.  He also talks about how life is too short to put up with this kind of behavior….I couldn't agree more and really recommend this book to anyone in HR or struggling in a crappy situation.  Dr Sutton….if you're ever in the Bay Area..look me up, I'd love to grab a beer.

I'm traveling this week so there may be another post coming…….more soon


  1. One of the best blogs, observations and pieces of advice I've read in a long time.

  2. Love it Jeff! And welcome to the valley!

  3. FYI Bob Sutton is a professor at Stanford, so he's almost always in the Bay Area