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The No A**Hole Rule: Don't Say It If You Don't Mean It...

I'm working on a column for Workforce on the "No A**hole Rule", which means that your organization has taken such a stand against the destructive, bad behavior of toxic employees that you've institutionalized a rule against it.  First coined, to my knowledge, by Bob Sutton; don't we all like seeing the rule?  After all, it rings true to everything we want our companies to be from a behavior standpoint.

My point in the draft version of the column?  You better back it and be ready to walk talent to the door if you put that on the culture card, kids.  Because most of us don't walk the walk.

Case in point: Michael Jordan.  Michael Freaking Jordan.

I'm a Pistons fan, so know that going in (I should add that to the Frauenheim Disclosure now that I think about it).  Here's the deal on Jordan - he's the greatest player of all time, but he was so uber-competitive that he routinely bullied, intimidated and played Jedi-mind games with teammates, coaches, refs and league officials alike during his playing days.  It's well documented.

What will you do with the Michael Jordan of your organization once you have the No A**hole Rule that you crave?  Going to walk him to the door?  Think your C-level supports that?

Don't believe that Michael Jordan was difficult enough to warrant measurement under the No A**hole Rule when he played?   Consider the following quotes (and thoughts captured from Yahoo Sports) from his Hall of Fame induction speech, where you're generally at your most classy as you thank all who helped you:

To the coach who cut him from the varsity as a North Carolina schoolboy (who was in the crowd at the Hall of Fame). “I wanted to make sure you understood: You made a mistake, dude.” … 

To Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy — Jordan called him Pat Riley’s “little guy” — who accused Jordan of “conning” players by acting friendly toward them, then attacking them in games.

--When he finally acknowledged his family, Jordan blurted, in part, to them, “I wouldn’t want to be you guys.”

--Yahoo reports: Jordan wandered through an unfocused and uninspired speech at Symphony Hall, disparaging people who had little to do with his career, like Jeff Van Gundy and Bryon Russell. He ignored people who had so much to do with it, like his personal trainer, Tim Grover. This had been a moving and inspirational night for the NBA – one of its best ceremonies ever – and five minutes into Jordan’s speech it began to spiral into something else. Something unworthy of Jordan’s stature, something beneath him.

If you put that No A**hole Rule on the culture cards, would you walk Michael Jordan to the door because he couldn't abide by it?  That's what you should think about, because the reality is that most people are unwilling to walk much lesser talents to the door - because they think they can't live without them.

I'd walk you to the door for falling afoul of the No A**hole Rule. 

I wouldn't walk Michael Jordan to the door.  And that means I really shouldn't put that rule in play.


Tim Sackett


You're dead wrong on this - every organization needs A**holes for the simple fact, they are usually the only ones who make most corporate executives look in the mirror. I would love to say every org would have the "no stripes" rule and "were all equal" mentality, but even the best don't. So, it takes an A**hole to call them out - plain and simple. That's just the reality of corporate life. A**holes make corporations better...or at least that's what I tell my boss each review!

To the Jordan thing - how does Kobe stack up against MJ in the A**hole category. Also, being a Bad Boys fan, I hated Jordan growing up - and now see people talk about Kobe in the same manner - yet I see him completely different. Same competitive spirit as MJ, but much better team player and much less A**hole. Agree? Wonder what Phil would say about both?

Lois Melbourne

I have often found the executives that are this blatent about putting in the rule - must do so because the company isn't big enough for the a**hole ego at the top and those from workers.

I do believe that culture is very important for hiring and firing purposes. If you focus on what you DO want, you are more likely to get what you want then if your policy is about what you don't want.

I guess unless you are a a**hole - then maybe it is the reverse.

Steve Boese

I wonder if there is a correlation between support or rejection of the no A**hole rule and the NBA teams you support. Both KD and Tim claim affinity for the 'Bad Boy' Pistons. Hmmm.. was there even one likable guy on those teams? Isiah, Rodman, Laimbeer, Mahorn, (well Mahorn was a little likable when he wasn't elbowing you in the throat). They were themselves such a lot of A**holes that they almost make you forget a classy, great player like Dumars.

But they did win championships....


I get why people like the "no A**hole rule". And it sounds great in theory. But the truth is hard to enforce unless the a**hole is an average to low performer. I know it would never fly here as our CEO would qualify as a Michael Jordan style a**hole. Very talented, smart and arrogent.

I think many big companies are like this. There is a reason these people get ahead. They are good. And companies can do well under their leadership. Do I like working for an a**hole? Not always. But I do like our business performance (and so do our shareholders).

Lance Haun

Just wondering if KD is going to reimagine the Pistons as a no a-hole organization in his Workforce article. What would that look like? I am thinking the Clippers of the upper Midwest is fairly generous.

How about the contrast between the 1989-1990 NBA finals teams of the Blazers and Pistons? Blazers were nice guys but they could never get it done in the finals. Then again, they couldn't get it done when they were full of a-holes (hello 1999-2000). Of course, Mike Dunleavy was the coach...

Are you settling for mediocrity when you exclude a-holes?

Tim Sackett

I'm now wondering from The Lance's analogy - if the A**holes are really just being misunderstood "A" players - and we need to give them a break!

It's probably more closer to the point of too many "A" players can cross that fine line of go-to-employee to A**hole. Funny that the nicest guy on those Piston teams - Joe Dumars - was able to re-create the bad boy image with the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, etc. Doesn't take an A**hole to put together a team of A**holes - but maybe that's the secret ingrediant!

To spell check, or not to spell chek, that is the question.
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind of the poster to give opinion without Merriam/Webster assistance,
Or to suffer the slings and arrows
Of closet editors everywhere!!

Kris Dunn

Beth - Wow. I've got a copy editor who looks at my stuff before it goes out, but wow - are you seriously taking time to put a comment up on a spelling error in my post when you have capitalization after commas and a spelling error of your own? Wowser....

Kris Dunn

Tim -

You misunderstood me. The post is less of a call for a No A Rule than it is a reality check that they don't make sense as formal policy for most companies....

Lance/Lois/M and Steve - thanks for checking in. Lance, great point about the A-enabled Pistons against the nice guy Blazers. Still remember Lambier walking off the court in Portland in game 5 egging the Rip City fans on... classic....


The Antipodean

Well isn't this an interesting can of worms to open! And by the way Kris, people obviously don't realise (spelled correctly for non-US countries) that errors were placed in your copy deliberatly to give those that find them a sense of achievement...)

I had a discussion many years ago with a national soccer coach about an A-hole player who scored goals. I asked him about the possible number of goals he was preventing by the effect of his behaviour on and off the pitch. The coach's reply? - "I don't care, it only matters that he can score goals."

It is probably worth considering the medium to long term effects of having a Star/A-hole in an organisation. Tolerating the behaviour sends a message to all and sundry about the real culture of an organisation. In the same way that the manner in which staff who are made redundant are treated sends a very clear message to those who stay behind.

Additionally, I wonder how many A-holes are acutally sociopaths in organisational settings?

Kris, I admire your candour, but can't help but wonder if the unwillingness to jettison A-holes comes from our Western focus on short-term results?

Chris M

Typical Pistons fan, still sore about Jordan torching you. Jordan walked the fine line throughout his career and always spoke with respect for the league and people around him. He really has nothing left to prove and for once he came out and spoke like a real an A-hole. We all do the same thing personally and from time to time professionally. All businesses have A-holes - go walk thru your sales and marketing department right now and (unless there are empty offices and cubicles from RIFs) I'm sure you'll stumble upon many a professional A-hole right there. Why stop there, travel down 'Executive Row' and see the A-Holes on display. Toes galore have been stepped on to get there; lotsa competitiveness, like Jordan but in a different field. Jordan had his moment and it wasn't a typical acceptance speech full of gracious and borning thank yous...just like when he was on the court, he still had the crowd captivated and kept them amused, but this time he was a regular guy and more down to earth.

No Dude!! I love your blog . . . I am a total KD fanatic. I was referring to a *poster* not the *blogger*.

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