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Is Having an "Asshole" for a Boss Really Such a Bad Thing?

by Chris Young

Badboss1 A while back I blogged about Martin Kihn's latest book - A$$hole: How I Got Rich and Happy by not Giving a Damn About Anyone. Kihn's book, along with the fact that every other month there seems to be a new study about how bad bosses are really got me thinking… Is having a jerk for a boss really such a bad thing?

First of all, let me make it clear that a boss who is verbally or physically abusive, sexually harasses co-workers, or sabotages others is a bad boss to work for and should not be tolerated under any circumstance. The kind of boss I'm talking about is the demanding, egocentric, aggressive, and competitive boss that we all love to hate.

Now I'm sure that Bob Sutton - Stanford professor and author of the bestselling book The No Asshole Rule - would probably disagree with me, but I think that having an "asshole" for a boss isn't always such a bad thing. Here's why:

  • They are quick to act in a pinch – The brazen, short-fused boss is often great at making quick decisions without a lot of information. She doesn't waffle, doesn't pass the buck, and she doesn't send out an email requesting 10 additional reports before she makes a decision. This is critical when emergencies come up and decisions need to be made quickly. Think about it – who do you want on the court when the game is on the line – Willy the Waffler or Diane the Decision Maker?
  • They drive performance – People become bosses and managers for a number of reasons, one of which is the ability to correct others and drive their performance to higher levels. These managers refuse to accept anything but the very best that their employees are capable of. Bosses like these are incredibly valuable to the organization as well as its employees. Do you really want a boss that accepts mediocrity and doesn't demand your very best effort?
  • They provide candid feedback – Managers and bosses are often labeled as jerks because they don't pull any punches, cut through the BS, and above all, provide candid feedback to those they lead. For many of us this candid and unfiltered feedback can be a bitter pill to swallow. However this is often the medicine we need to improve our performance and advance our career. While a boss that sugarcoats his feedback or refrains from giving any constructive criticism might be great for one's ego, he does little to improve one's performance and the performance of an organization.
  • They demand accountability – Far too often I find that bosses get labeled as "assholes" because they have the audacity to demand accountability from those that report to them. A boss who doesn't hold his or her direct reports accountable can spell disaster as an organizational culture lacking accountability is doomed to be mired in mediocrity.

Bottom line –the bad boss thing is overplayed. Yes… there are some real jerks in the workplace and yes, some of them do cross the line. This is unfortunate, I admit it.

The truth is that bosses today get a bad rap because they are in positions where they have to make decisions people won't like, hold others accountable for their actions and performance, and have touchy conversations that many would rather not have. The most effective bosses demand accountability, provide candid feedback, drive the performance of others, and make tough decisions. Because of this many get labeled as "assholes" by those who report to them.

Personally, I'd take this kind of boss any day of the week.

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