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Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Bullying of Academics in Higher Education

The bullying of academics follows a pattern of horrendous, Orwellian elimination rituals, often hidden from the public. Despite the anti-bullying policies (often token), bullying is rife across campuses, and the victims (targets) often pay a heavy price. "Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence." Leonardo da Vinci - "All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men [or good women] do nothing." Winston Churchill.

Randy Harward

Just found you and your work this week. What a breath of fresh air in a world where assholes are not only tolerated, they are held up as examples and rewarded as people able to get the job done without needing teamwork or good "systems". These people come to believe in their own superiority and many become assholes about it. It seems high profile assholes are often promoted and their high positions make them particularly toxic. Just one in a high position can destroy organizational effectiveness. I've seen more than one Sr. Management team absolutely paralyzed by it. But many, if not most are what you might call passive assholes. Sometimes known as "players", they're quite nice and cordial, but they don't contribute until it's in their personal best interest to do so, leaving everyone else to haul the heavy load. This form of asshole seems more widespread and I might suggest is just as toxic. Of course both types are perpetuated by appraisal and reward systems rooted in a "survival of the fittest" core belief. Referencing Darwin in management circles, or in any social context is fraught with pitfalls, but this misunderstanding of his work is so strong and so often mis-used it's difficult to avoid. Interesting when you consider that Darwin's work was really about "survival of the fitting-est" toward optimal resource utilization - which sounds more like teamwork in a social setting. I suspect that there are also even deeper misunderstandings of our various religious doctrines that worm their way into our corporate policies and actually promote assholes. A never ending drive to separate people into good and bad, so we can reward and punish appropriately, invariably ends up rewarding bad behaviors of personal promotion. If this is true, and I really hope I'm wrong, it's going to be long road to better workplaces. Thanks for your work in helping to pave the way.

Wally Bock

As a matter of both law and ethics in today's world the process of removing a toxic player from either a team or the organization is something that takes time, counselling and documentation. It seems to me that team members and other employees will tolerate that time if the supervisor is doing the work of observation, confrontation, discipline and documentation. If the supervisor does not do that, then the situation goes into a death spiral, because workers do not only have to deal with the asshole, they also begin to feel like there will be no relief.

Peter Warne

I believe that the correct stance here is asshole intolerance, regardless of the size of the group or organisation. Large organisations are generally made up of a large number of smaller groups in any case. The corollary to Felps' wife's example is also interesting; what is the result of an individual having a bad day or series of days and behaving like an asshole? It happens, and if in the example above a few days' absence is enough to put the situation right, is not a few days of Mr Asshole taking over from Mr Teamplayer enough to make a situation bad?

Frank Roche

Glad to see the research bear out what we naturally feel...assholes upset the apple cart. I seriously wonder about companies that let assholes hang around "because he's a great salesman" or "she's really great with clients." It just can't be...and I wonder what the entire level of productivity could be if more assholes were kicked to the curb. They can go to AA meetings...Assholes Anonymous.

Lilly Evans

Very interesting and recognisable.

In the course of leading workshops on Productive Conversations on Executive Development programme at London Business School I devised and applied simple measures that showed levels on negativity in different groups. Data was collected by participants and we then plotted results and discussed implications.

I was totally unprepared for subsequent strong reactions from one of the participants. Only now reading this post I realise that this was a jerk who could not deal with the implications of own behaviour, even when confronted with the evidence that everyone saw. He mounted a sustained campaign among other attendees to discredit the session.

It was always obvious that the whole episode had nothing to do with me and all to do with this asshole (oops, here, I said it). This fully confirms it!

Rob Crawford

Fascinating stuff. This goes to show that all managers have a responsibility to remove highly negative people from their teams. The cost to everyone else on the team is incredibly high - too high. And perhaps the best thing all managers can do TOMORROW is to begin the process of removing all negative people from their teams. Period.

Kent Blumberg


Thanks for the link and the interesting new data.

I concluded in my review that zero was a better number to shoot for if one was inexperienced at jerk management. As you note above, we should aim for zero, as one or two might slip in anyway.

We should probably leave the "one asshole rule" only for those who are expert at jerk management - and there probably are precious few of us who might fit into that category.


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