No Need for "Brown Eyes"

The day before Christmas break I am browsing through a book store looking for a good gift for my principal. In the management section I spot a small book with an intriguing title – The No Asshole Rule. I first think this must be some kind of gag gift. But a ten-minute perusing of the book tells me something else. The author, Robert Sutton, is a well known and respected writer. He’s not joking here. He is only using the lay terminology for “difficult people”, “hardened hearts”, or “combative individuals”. I bought The No Asshole Rule (TNAR) for my principal, and a copy for myself. 

TNAR is a much needed common language leadership book. I know many of as are fans of many different education leadership authors (Fullan, Heifetz, Wheatley, and Gardner) . These books are chock full of ideas, principles, and theories that are sound, sensible, and applicable. But Sutton is onto something different here. His deliberate use of the word “asshole” to describe those – well, assholes – that we work with, sit through meetings with, receive directives from, and must collaborate with every day, is refreshing.

Though TNAR is written mainly for those employed in the private sector (where hiring and firing is fast and furious – unlike public education), it does have some practical applications for schools.

For instance, how many administrators, teachers, or staff members have you worked with or encountered that have indulged in Dr. Sutton’s “Dirty Dozen” list of actions that assholes use?

  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading one’s personal territory
  3. Uninvited personal contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and non-verbal
  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult-delivery systems
  6. Withering e-mail flames
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  8. Public shaming or status-degradation rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible.

Check out Dr. Sutton for yourself.

A few things anyone can take from this book are Sutton’s suggestions on dealing with assholes you can’t get rid of:

  1. Deal with their asshole behavior immediately and make it known that you did. Don’t let asshole behavior go on. Even if it hurts to confront an asshole, do it for the greater good of the organization. People are watching to see how you react to the known asshole.
  2. Marginalize them. Make them irrelevant and their influence minimal.
  3. Don’t be confrontational with assholes, but don’t be a doormat either.

His final word of advice is one that we should all take to heart. Don’t hire assholes. Those of us in positions of authority to hire faculty, administrators, and staff must seriously consider candidate’s personality as much as we consider their knowledge and ability. I’ll remember that as we begin our annual hiring carnival this Spring and Summer.

PS- Just for fun: take the asshole quiz.

Author: Michael Parent, Ed.D

Father, husband, school administrator in NJ. "Education cures poverty".

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