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February 09, 2007

Is Your Boss an Asshole?


Bob Sutton and the mavens at Electric Pulp have created the ARSE (Asshole Rating Self Exam) to help people to determine if they are assholes. This is an offshoot from Bob’s book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, which I reviewed at the end of October.

I’m sure that none of you need to take this test, but you might know someone who does. :-)

On a related topic, Bob told me about a company called SuccessFactors. It makes performance and talent management software to automate performance reviews across global organizations and create visibility into performance data across the organization. This helps its customers determine how to find, promote, and pay people as well as how to manage succession planning.

The company is a no-asshole zone. It requires employees to agree to sign this document:

Rules of Engagement

  1. I will be passionate—about SuccessFactors’ mission, about my work. I will love what we do for companies and employees everywhere.

  2. I will demonstrate respect for the individual; I will be nice and listen to others, and respect myself. I will act with integrity and professionalism.

  3. I will do what it takes to get the job done, no matter what it takes, but within legal and ethical boundaries.

  4. I know that this is a company, not a charity. I will not waste money—I will question every cost.

  5. I will present an exhaustive list of solutions to problems—and suggest actionable recommendations.

  6. I will help my colleagues and recognize the team when we win. I will never leave them behind when we lose.

  7. I will constantly improve Kaizen! I will approach every day as an opportunity to do a better job, admitting to and learning from my mistakes.

  8. I will selflessly pursue customer success.

  9. I will support the culture of meritocracy and pay for performance.

  10. I will focus on results and winning—scoring points, not just gaining yardage.

  11. I will be transparent. I will communicate clearly and be brutally honest, even when it’s difficult, because I trust my colleagues.

  12. I will always be in sales and drive customer satisfaction.

  13. I will have fun at work and approach my work with enthusiasm.

  14. I will be a good person to work with—I will not be an asshole.

I agree to live these values. If my colleagues fail to live up to any of these rules, I will speak up and will help them correct; in turn, I will be open to constructive criticism from my colleagues should I fail to live by these values. I understand that my performance will be judged in part by how well I demonstrate these values in my daily work.

I hope you pass the ’hole-in-oscopy! If you don’t, be sure to get the book.

Question: How many bosses does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Answer: One. He holds up the light bulb and expects the universe to revolve around him.


This is the distribution of ARSE scores of people who took the test. Clearly, most of my readers either aren’t assholes—or don’t believe they are assholes. However, there’s a niche (orifice?) to fill in asshole tests: Helping people determine if they work for an asshole.

At a basic level, this determination is very easy: Is your boss rude? Asshole bosses keep people waiting; they yell and scream at people; and they are demeaning. They think they can get away with this because, largely, they have gotten away with this since society tolerates bull shiitake from the rich and famous.

I digress, but I’ve often wondered which came first: Was the person always an asshole or did accomplishing something great (probably by luck) mean that people would tolerate bull-shiitake behavior? One thing is for sure: not all assholes do great things, so there’s no causal relationship. :-)

  1. Thinks that the rules are different for him For example, a parking space for handicapped people is really for handicapped people plus him because his time is so valuable that he can’t walk fifty additional feet. Or, the carpool lane is for cars with multiple people, hybrids, and her because she’s late for a meeting.

  2. Doesn’t understand the difference between a position making a person and a person making a position. The vice-president of acquisitions for a big media company is a big deal, but all her power, and therefore the ability to act like an asshole, evaporates without this title. Assholes usually don’t understand that their current position affords them temporary privileges.

  3. Requires “handlers.” This means a personal assistant, appointments secretary/lover, public relations flunkie, and chauffeur. It’s funny but if an asshole didn’t have the position/money/status, he would probably be able to answer the phone, make appointments, talk to the press, and drive himself.

  4. Requires the fulfillment of special requests in order to be happy/productive/efficient. For example, she needs a special brand of spring water from the south of France bottled by chanting monks when she’s making a speech. This type of actions represent flexing for the sake of flexing—not because any of this crap is necessary.

  5. Relates to people primarily in terms of what they can do for him. In other words, “good” people can do a lot for him. “Lousy” people aren’t useful. The way a lousy person becomes a good person is by showing that he can help your boss in some way.

  6. Judges people by her personal values, not the employees’ or society’s values. Assholes judge people according to only what they think is important. For example, a boss may value only professional accomplishments, so someone who is “merely” a mom or dad with a focus on a family is therefore inferior.

  7. Judges employees’ results and his intentions. A boss never comes up short when he juxtaposes his intentions (“I intended to do your quarterly review”) versus an employee’s results (“You didn’t finish the software on time”). Instead, a boss should judge his results against his employees’ results and never mix results and intentions.

  8. Asks you to do something that he wouldn’t do. This is a good, all-purpose test. Does your boss ask you to fly coach while she flies first class? Does she ask you to work weekends while he’s off at a hockey tournament? I’m all for using boss time effectively (for example, not making her drop off a package at Federal Express), but were it not that your boss could be doing something more valuable for the company, would she do what she’s asking you to do?

  9. Calls employees at home or on the weekends. Rarely, as in once per year, this is okay, but any more often and your boss is certifiable. His happiness is not your problem 24 x 7. You are entitled to your personal time and space because slavery was abolished a long time ago in America.

  10. Believes that the world is out to get her when faced with criticism or even omission. For example, bloggers don’t write about her because they are all jealous of her. Frankly, it’s more likely that he’s not worth writing about than the blogosphere is colluding against him. This boss needs to learn that “it’s no always about her.”

  11. Slows down or halts your career progress. One can forgive or ignore the previous nine issues, but this one is by far the worst thing an asshole boss can do. Usually it’s a matter of convenience: “How can you leave me? I need you.” For doing this, a boss should go into the anals (sic) of asshole-dom. God didn’t put you on this earth to make your boss’s life better, so don’t hesitate to abandon a boss who holds you back.

You may be concerned that only you think your boss is an asshole. For this issue I offer the “Kawasaki Theory of Perfect Information About Assholes.” It goes like this: If you think your boss is an asshole, most likely everyone else does too. It’s seldom true that you think someone is an asshole, and everyone else thinks he’s great.


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I work for a nonprofit organization. I work my ass off for a tiny paycheck. I've broken bones and have been cut to the bone, and I've messed up my feet and my lower back, which will affect how I walk for the rest of my life. All of this happened in the line of duty while following orders. Okay. My managers treat us like we're the lowest form of shit on the planet. Rarely do they ever get off their asses and do anything. Whenever we need their input, they hide in their offices and pretend they aren't there. So when something goes wrong, we all get bitched out, snapped at in front of customers, are told we're no damn good in front of customers, and are generally abused by these assfucks. One manager throws tantrums. He once kicked a door off of its hinges and has repeatedly hurled small pieces of furniture across the loading dock just because some customer bitched about a price. I'm about to look for a better job. Any time someone tells you that "Christian" based nonprofits are a good thing, punch the fucker right in the mouth.

I know good bosses are hard to find these days and I had one once. He was one that I can trust, respect, comunicate with and rely on any given day. We stood up for each other very well and there was never a dull moment.
The boss I have today is totaly the opposite, but I am here for the company. Here are some advice 1) Be quiet and do the best you can even if he wants you to wipe his hairy butt or hear him trash talk. 2) Be friendly with everyone, except the co-workers that are not your type unless you absolutely have to in order to get the job done. 3) Think before asking questions and be honest and specific about it. 4) Be at work early and leave later than expected. 5) You will always find an a**hole in the crowd and don't let them get to you in any way. 6) Take notes for yourself in what areas you can improve on to be the better person.
What burns me up is someone who takes 20-30 minute smoke break every hour and gets promoted. This same guy only does (works) what he wants to do. I bet he has never worked 24 hours straight like I have. And I don't expect a medal or a chest to pin it on either.

I'm loving the graph. Look at how it shooted up initially and later came down rapidly. This shows the bosses have come across this blog lately. lol

My boss is really an a**hole..
This is my first month of doing job in a new compant & in the begining only my boss wants to see me a perfect employee, Niether he is much helpful when it comes to a difficult situation of doing something which I havent done before.. I just don't understand how to deal with my boss.He gets pissed off very soon when I ask him questions..
Kindly help me with this situation.. Tell me how should I manage my boss.. Write me a letter so that I can email it to my boss.. I am too much frustrated... I just dont know what to do..
Please write me a letter on my e-mail: jazithe1@hotmail.com

My boss is an asshole. He evaluated me unfairly. Said I had an attitude problem and had no entusiasim. He based this on someone elses opinion of me. The other someone is a person who has hated me ever since she came to this job. She bad mouthed me to the boss and he took it all serious. I feel I have been dumped on and given a unfair evaluation this year.

you guys should just give him an asshole award, lol.

Why not give your boss the asshole award? at jeremyinc.com or just put one in the washroom and watch all your co-workers laugh.

I interviewed with a company head recently -- and was told he was a 'quick decision maker.' After having talked with him, I'm wondering if that should be included as part of being an asshole boss. The interview wasn't really an interview -- just a chance for him to fire off questions, act rude and disinterested, then say "sorry, not cut out for the position." I actually hope I never hear back from them, which is a really weird feeling to have if you're looking for a job.

Either that or my initial perception is wrong.

Amen to A Face, I gotta find that book!

Glad I found this place to vent. I not to long a go lost a job I really liked, because I unfortunatly was put under the supervisor from HELL! alot of times you have people above management who are nice and like you, but when you get a manager who is evil, they can't do anything to help save your job. To this manager I had a Bitch(which I did do to her face, AFTER I knew she was firing me) is an understatement, she is a complete Psychopath! She was extremely condescending and screamed and yelled, and this always makes #11 become true, they ruin yourchances to grow and of course you can't do your job when you have someone viciously insulting you. I basically discovered she was planning to fire me because she interviewed a possible replacement for me IN FRONT OF MY FACE! and I know she wasn't trying to replace my other peer, cause she made her into her ass-kissing sidekick. And she was saying things to other people in a very tactless way all week, and I knew she ment me when she interviewed the other girl. Anytime she screwed up, she of course somehow managed to put it on me(#10)! She slowed down our scedule, and then when I had to clean up after her, she yelled at me for cleaning too slow. She made me work sick with a fever once, because unlike other managers, she refused to work a full day by herself, which correlates to #8. She was also a pathological Lier. this girl was a true psychopath. I suggest any of you who have had a a boss or manager of this like read a book I am currently reading called Without Conscience, by Robert Hare, about psychopaths. There is a chapter about white coller psychopaths, with a section called subcriminal psychopaths, about people who aren't physically violant, but destroy people emotionally, it described my ex-supervisor and probably many of your bosses/ex-bosses quite perfectly. has anyone else delt with someone like this she devil who screwed me over? I love to hear other peoples stories. And please don't tell me I'm probably overreacting, because I'm not!

One of the greatest contributions of India to the world is Holy Gita which is considered to be one of the first revelations from God. The management lessons in this holy book were brought in to light of the world by divine Maharshi Mahesh Yogi , Sri Sri RaviShankar and Swami Bodhanandji, and the spiritual philosophy by the great Adi Sankaracharya the greatest philosopher of India and proud son of Kerala, and Sri. Srila Prabhupada Swami and humanism by Mata Amritanandamayi Devi and Satya Sai Baba. Maharishi calls the Bhagavad-Gita the essence of Vedic Literature and a complete guide to practical life. It provides "all that is needed to raise the consciousness of man to the highest possible level." Maharishi reveals the deep, universal truths of life that speak to the needs and aspirations of everyone. Swami Chinmayanandaji preached and educated the people and Swami Sandeep Chaitanyaji continuing the mission by keeping this lantern burning always knowing the wishes of the modern generations. Arjuna got mentally depressed when he saw his relatives with whom he has to fight.( Mental health has become a major international public health concern now). To motivate him the Bhagavad Gita is preached in the battle field Kurukshetra by Lord Krishna to Arjuna as a counseling to do his duty while multitudes of men stood by waiting. It has got all the management tactics to achieve the mental equilibrium and to overcome any crisis situation. The Bhagavad Gita can be experienced as a powerful catalyst for transformation. Bhagavad gita means song of the Spirit, song of the Lord. The Holy Gita has become a secret driving force behind the unfoldment of one's life. In the days of doubt this divine book will support all spiritual searches. This divine book will contribute to self reflection, finer feeling and deepen one's inner process. Then life in the world can become a real education—dynamic, full and joyful—no matter what the circumstance. May the wisdom of loving consciousness ever guide us on our journey? What makes the Holy Gita a practical psychology of transformation is that it offers us the tools to connect with our deepest intangible essence and we must learn to participate in the battle of life with right knowledge?. It shows us the path to handle the situation with equipoised mind irrespective of what comes our way and reminds us time and again, that what the right action is.

I think it's human nature to not like your boss. People don't like having to answer to someone else. Loss of freedom.

I guess I am very fortunate. My boss is REALLY not an asshole.

Oh my GOD # 11 is it. My *&$&*&#@ boss told me I cound not get a promo cause it would be bad for the client. WTF!!

So how does anyone make mo money and move on up to the east side?

How does that motivate the guy under me to do a better job and get to my level?

The client would benefit by having more people able and WILLING to help. It would show the client we are not lacking skilled personel.

No F-ing wonder HR wanders around asking why we are losing good people!!!!

Funny how the phone rings when your thinking of a certain someone *sigh*..

I found the above discussion quite interesting, but I must disagree with some of your premises:

I think of the "asshole" criteria above, 1,2,10, and 11 are by far the worst. I think the worst thing a boss can do is impede your career or take criticism personally and non-constructively. These traits are generally indefensible and will cause organizations to fall.

However, I believe that other things (such as calling people on weekends and asking for specific perks) are completely reasonable. People spend years working their way up so that they can enjoy these perks of first-class seats and not having to do mundane tasks. In a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment, employees should EXPECT to take calls at home as opposed to needlessly complaining.

Basically, I believe that the fundamental traits of human nature make it very justifiable to ask for perks - most successful executives ask for, and receive these things. However, I absolutely agree that when such behavior cuts into the growth of an organization or the people within, there is cause for concern. Until then, suck it up and have a thick skin.

---There's no doubt that he's exceptionally demanding, but from what I've heard he's the kind who expects everything from you because he expects the same from himself.

Just because you didn't violate rule 8 doesn't mean you're not an AH.

rule 11: expecting others to perform as you did just because you behave that way, so they should too.

This is madness. It's just the validation of the cycle of violence. it's Arbeit Macht Frei.

There is absolutely no way to actually judge if someone is performing as you did, and no way in heck that you accurately remember or portray your own behavior.

I had an AH prof tell me that to work for her, I had to work as hard in grad school as she had when she was in grad school. WHO THE HELL could possibly live up to that fantasy? no one, unless she decided they did. it wasn't about reality, just perception.

I'm tired of people telling employees how to deal with bad bosses. Bad bosses need to be told that they are idiots. Alastair Onetowne's You're an Idiot, and People Talk About You Behind Your Back! is an excellent book that talks about the idiot bosses out there. My friends have read it, and some have sent it to their bosses. Great anonymous gift. The book is a quick, funny, true read of idiot bosses and how they affect their employees. Fun read. Amazon/Barnes&Noble.

I will make one more general comment on books and such on how to manage a asshole/bully-type boss who unpredictably goes into tirades. These advice books are in general misguided. It's like a battered woman who thinks 'as long as I do this that and the other perfectly, he won't lose his temper and beat me up.' It's just wrong, ruinous thinking. The only way to 'fix' such a situation is a passive-aggressive stance which helps lead the asshole boss into finding others to harass as an aid to leave the company on your terms.


(1) The biggest asshole boss ever: "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap. Hands down, the Hannibal Lector of CEOs.

(2) Asshole bosses reap what they sow. So if I were working for such a company, I would think nothing about interviewing like crazy during work hours, doing consulting gigs "on the side" and otherwise being actively disengaged at work making my move the hell out, while avoiding the assholes (who are also often clueless). IMHO, the best defense against asshole bosses is a passive-aggressive offense.

Guy, YOU are an asshole!



Did I say anywhere that I wasn't? Perhaps it does take one to know one.



My name is Al Sacco and I'm a writer with CIO.com. We recently assembled a handy guide to boss relations, and I thought I'd share with you and your readers. Though aimed mostly at the IT exec, the guide also includes valuable insights for non-tech staffers, including articles on how to tell your boss you're overworked, how to read his facial expressions--or anyone else's--and a piece on how to tell you're about to get fired.


"because slavery was abolished a long time ago in America." uhm, not abolished. It was replaced with self-exploitation (a system inherent necessity), what is much more effective than slavery. ;-)

Yeeee, Guy

My boss takes out a 10/10 on your list !
Any advice for now ?

How to manage your boss from an asshole into a facilitator ?


Well thought out framework that describes yourself. I have witnessed many an episode of "The Guy Kawasaki Show" to potential invesments of your fund, and your typical behavior fits this criteria to a "T".



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