(From Aidan Directors Blog, 29 April 2009)
To be or not to be (an effective asshole). That is the question.
Mr. Z a nice guy. He is a well-respected figure in his community. He is always generous with his smile. He treats his colleague like his friends and his subordinates like his anak buah. People like his personality: warm, funny, and friendly. He often goes out of his way to praise people even for simply doing their job. He tries not to scold his staff because it might affect their morale. The hardest he has ever been on his staff is that one time when he gave a modest warning to his assistant who screwed up pretty bad. After that, he couldn’t sleep for three nights because he felt bad saying that to his assistant. The next day, he awkwardly offered to buy his assistant lunch in a reconciliatory gesture.
Everyday, he goes home to his loving family at 5.30pm sharp. People always seek his advice regarding their personal life, because Mr. Z looks like a wise, well-aged man. He doesn’t mind his subordinates getting familiar with him, and would lend money to his subordinates, although they never pay him back. He doesn’t mind, though. Mr. Z is a nice guy.
However, his work is sloppy. And full of mistakes. And always a few days late. This is because his staff never submitted their work to him on time, because they know he won’t make a fuss. Submit a document to him a few days late and the worst thing he would say is “lain kali minta hantar awal ya”, in a futile attempt to act firm. Mr. Z just couldn’t be mean.
Mr. S is an asshole. Everytime he passes by, people would whisper about how much of a jerk Mr. S is. He would shout at his colleagues any time he doesn’t get his way. He would make scenes during board meetings. He treats his subordinates like shit. His staff fear him, and would tremble if summoned to his office. If people screw up, he would give a tongue lashing vicious enough to reduce adult men to tears. If his demands are not met, he would forbid people from going home or going out for lunch until the job is done. If he requests something at 9.00am, you would put it on his desk at 8.30am, hoping to be spared of his explosive outburst. His meetings always start on time. His staff would rather fake a relative’s death than come to his meeting 5 minutes late and incur his wrath.He can be found working at his desk well into the night. He knows everyone hates him, but he doesn’t give a damn, because he is just doing his job. Mr. S is a perfect asshole.
As a result of his high-handedness, his office maintains a high level of discipline and punctuality. He always gets his job done well: on time, spotless, tip-top, with all i’s dotted and all t’s crossed. Same goes to his staff. Anything less is an insult to Mr. S’s work ethic. He may be an asshole, but he’s an effective asshole.
Who would you prefer working in your organization, Mr. Z or Mr. S?
Note: I don’t want weasel answers like “it depends” or “it’s good to be balanced” or “depending on the context” or “we need a bit of both”. Choose Mr. Z or Mr. S and state your reason why.