Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Review: The No Asshole Rule

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn'tThe No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I featured this one in my monthly column in the North Coast Business Journal* I checked with my editor before starting the draft.  "Will you accept a column from me about a book with this title?"  I asked.  He said he would, but probably wouldn't feature it too boldly in a headline.  That's OK... I figured he was running a risk just publishing the column.  Of course, I pushed the boundaries a little further and paired my summary of this book with a summary of the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs.  After reading them both, I knew they went together... but I worried NCBJ would get some blow back from unhappy Jobs admirers.  They didn't.

To be clear, Professor Sutton makes a distinction between assholes and office jerks, bullies, and backstabbers.  To qualify as exhibiting asshole-like behavior one must make a regular practice of belittling, humiliating, and oppressing people of lower status or power.  That's a relatively high bar, though one all too often accomplished in our workplaces.

The No Asshole Rule is a zero tolerance policy... zero.  Assholes are costly, demoralizing to coworkers, offensive to customers, and leave havoc in their wake.  What talent or experience they have is never worth it, never. Sutton hesitantly includes a chapter called "The Virtues of Assholes" but he doesn't convince me that there is ever an upside to tolerating this kind of behavior.  As I say, I read the Steve Jobs book and I see that he was a genius. But he also relied heavily on collaborative partners who shaped his thinking and helped shape Apple.  Sure, he had success in the end... but what might he have been able to create if instead of hatefully berating people who didn't meet his standards, he nudged them kindly or quietly let them go?  How many great partners and ideas did he shove away with his bottomless vitriol?     

The points made in the fourth chapter, called "How to Stop Your 'Inner Jerk' from Getting Out" are well-placed and well-taken.  We won't build civilized workplaces by always focusing on the other guys.  We all have to monitor our own behavior and seek to have a positive impact on others. 

*The Well-Booked Business, a summary of a business-related book written by yours truly appears each month in the North Coast Business Journal.  Those within the Ohio counties of Erie, Ottawa, Huron, Sandusky and Seneca can pick it up at most local grocery stores or subscribe via their local Chamber of Commerce.  Others can see it online at  The column about The No Asshole Rule appeared in the March 2012 edition. A downloadable, two-page summary of the book, written by me, is available by clicking here.

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