As regular readers of Work Matters know, since I published The No Asshole Rule in 2007 (or really, since I published a short essay on the rule in Harvard Business Review in 2004) I have since been deluged with stories about certified assholes of every stripe. An astounding story about a candidate for the worst of the worst, the winner of this race to the bottom, perhaps the worst bosshole I have ever heard about, was played on This American Life a couple weeks ago. It is called "Petty Tyrant,"and you can listen to it for free here.
The story is about Steve Raucci, who was in charge of the the maintains department at the school system in Schenectady, New York. It sounds like an innocent and valuable position, but the pattern of his behavior was just outrageous. He was a masterful bully, doing everything from forcing his employees to socialize with him, to making constant and open threats, to forcing them to campaign for members of the school board he supported (indeed, it appears that most of the members of the school board were beholden to him), to firing and demoting people who were disloyal, to relentless taunting that ranged from sliding burning papers in a bathroom stall were an employee sat to outrageous sexual harassment.
Listen to the story if you want to hear the nuances, I can't do them justice here. But this case is intriguing because, in many ways, Steve Raucci demonstrates the hallmarks of what might be called, for lack of a better term, an effective asshole. He did a masterful job of "managing up" so that he had very powerful political allies in the administration and the school board, and was arguably the most powerful person in the school system. He also did a pretty good job of running the department so that they did their job well. And he used heavy handed tactics to force his employees to be loyal to him -- or else. Yet, it still stuns me to discover how these power strategies provided cover so that he could get away with consistently outrageous behavior.
Eventually, Mr. Raucci was sentenced to 23 years to life, "convicted on 18 of 22 counts against him for intimidating co-workers and perceived enemies with explosives at the school and union where he worked." The picture above shows him at his sentencing hearing last May. My only quarrel with the story on This American Life is that the term "petty tyrant" does not quite capture his evil nature.