Today’s deluge of business books exhaustively addresses problems with leadership, corporate strategy, sales, budgeting, incentives, innovation, execution, and on and on. But scant attention is devoted to a problem that plagues every workplace: Assholes. In a landmark Harvard Business Review essay, Stanford Professor Robert Sutton showed how assholes weren’t just an office nuisance, but a serious and costly threat to corporate success and employee health. In his new book, Sutton reveals the huge TCA (Total Cost of Assholes) in today’s corporations. He shows how to spot an asshole (hint: they are addicted to rude interruptions and subtle putdowns, and enjoy using “sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” as “insult delivery systems”), and provides a “self-test” to determine whether you deserve to be branded as a “certified asshole.” And he offers tips that you can use to keep your “inner jerk” from rearing its ugly head.
Sutton then uses in-depth research and analysis to show how managers can eliminate mean-spirited and unproductive behavior (while positively channeling some of the virtues of assholes) to generate an asshole free-and newly productive-workplace. Enlightening case studies include an analysis of how Google’s “don’t be evil” maxim helped launch the company to unprecedented early growth, how JetBlue and Southwest Airlines “fire” passengers who demean their employees, and how a “belligerent” e-mail from Cerner CEO Neal Patterson made his company’s stock plunge 22% in three days (and how his graceful apology helped the stock bounce back).