The new paperback version of The No Asshole Rule came out a few weeks back and it has a fairly long new chapter, as the headline says, called "On Being The Asshole Guy." It digs into topics including" "The Title is Powerful, Useful, and Dangerous," "Be Slow to Label Others as Assholes, But Quick to Label Yourself," "Subtle, Skilled, and Strategic Assholes are Especially Insidious," "Many Leaders and Organizations Use the Rule -- And it Works," "The Book Touched a Nerve About Bad Bosses," and "Eliminate the Negative First."
Here are the opening paragraphs of that chapter:
'I didn’t plan it. I never wanted it. I didn’t believe it at first. And it still makes me squirm. But I accept it now much as I accept being a 56-year-old balding white male: I am the asshole guy.
Regardless of anything I ever wrote or said about management, or ever will, I am condemned to be that guy for the rest of my life. This book was first published in North America in February 2007. The No Asshole Rule has sold over 125,000 copies in the English language, plus over 350,000 copies translated into other languages (especially Italian, German, and French). I have given hundreds of media interviews and received thousands of emails filled with stories, studies, questions, compliments, and insults from readers – or from people who haven’t read a page but instantly love or despise the book based on the title alone. After Guy Kawasaki posted the 24-item self-test in Chapter 4 online and renamed it the ARSE (Asshole Rating Self-Exam), more than 220,000 people completed it. The ARSE classifies people as “not a certified asshole” (0-5 asshole behaviors), “borderline” (5-15), or a full-blown certified asshole” (15 or more). As a result, strangers sometimes introduce themselves (both in person and on line) to me by saying things like “Hi, I’m Cindy, I got a 4, I am not an asshole” or “I’m Albert, an 8, so be careful.”
People still tell me asshole stories everywhere I go. Questions and comments about the book continue to flood my email inbox and blog. In recent weeks, for example, over 100 strangers emailed me about assholes and their management. An unemployed programmer described how “the assholes won” at his old workplace. He was sacked for complaining about his vicious boss and the “ones who are still there are all on anti-depressants, have continual health issues, and work in fear of their jobs.” A woman who escaped from a swarm of assholes at her old job asked if it was OK to start a Facebook page about this book. Professor (and former naval officer) Donnie Horner of Jacksonville University sent his article from the Navy Times, which asserts “the verbal abuse and public degradation of junior officers by senior officers” has driven promising young officers out of the service and contributed to a rash of mishaps at sea. Horner wrote me that such institutionalized indignities were largely to blame for the recent grounding of a big ship – a dangerous, preventable, and expensive error (see the Total Cost of Assholes or “TCA” in Chapter 2). Anne sent me a picture of the big brass plaque on her office wall. It says: “The Best Test of a Person’s Character is How He or She Treats Those with Less Power (especially when no one is watching),” paraphrasing Chapter 1. On and on it goes. Even when I am in no mood to talk about nasty people with strangers, I can’t avoid it because I am introduced or recognized as “the guy who wrote the asshole book” rather than, say, a Stanford Professor.
Yet I did not come to grips with my life sentence as the asshole guy until Spring of 2008, a year after this book was published. The events that propelled me from denial to acceptance weren’t exactly subtle. The first was at a retreat for 20 or so executives from some of the largest U.S. companies, held at a seaside inn in Maryland. McKinsey, the prestigious consulting firm, had invited me to lead a discussion about what great bosses do. Our host was Lenny Mendonca, a senior McKinsey partner widely admired for his reserve and thoughtfulness. Lenny gave me a warm and detailed introduction, describing my work on innovation, the knowing-doing gap, and evidence-based management. I was taken aback, however, when he ended by saying something like “and, of course, Bob Sutton is, and will always be, the asshole guy.” I felt my face turning red as I acknowledged (and admitted to myself) that I was indeed that guy.
This new and not entirely comfortable self-image was sealed a few weeks later in an elevator at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. I was there to give a speech to SuccessFactors customers -- a software firm that touted its “no assholes” rule. As I rode up a crowded elevator, a fellow passenger looked at me and blurted out, “Aren’t you the asshole guy?” He immediately became flustered and started apologizing – he desperately wanted those words back. I interrupted him in mid-sentence and said “Yes, that is me. I have accepted it and am beginning to like it."'
My publisher tells me the paperback is selling well and will be #7 on The New York Times "Advice, How to,...." paperback list this Sunday. I am also getting an upswing in emails sent to me about asshole bosses and coworkers. My favorite recent one is from a lawyer who gave her nasty boss a resignation letter that she tucked into a copy of the book -- which is consistent with the argument in the new chapter that The No Asshole Rule appears to be a useful object at times independently of whether or not people actually read it -- this is disconcerting as I spent a lot of time writing the book, but it appears to be true.
P.S. If you want to help determine if you are a certified asshole -- or borderline or not an asshole at all -- take the ARSE, the Asshole Rating Self-Exam, a non-scientific test that has been taken by over 245,000 people.
Follow me on Twitter at work_matters.