Bob Sutton worked up a checklist with staff at LinkedIn and Guy Kawasaki a few years ago to help determine if a prospective hire was likely to be a problem boss. The resulting list below builds on the ideas in his books “The No Asshole Rule” and “Good Boss, Bad Boss”.
For in-house designers who may have many bosses in the form of multiple clients, the list below may be especially relevant. If you’re lucky enough and busy enough to turn down clients’ projects you should consider using the bad boss criteria to help you decide whether to work with a new client or not. Who cares if they end up going to an outside agency – if they’re that difficult to work with, better to let an experienced account exec deal with their craziness.
If you have to deal with them I suggest you read Bob’s books to pick up excellent strategies and tactics for dealing with them.
1. Kisses-up and kicks-down: “How does the prospective boss respond to feedback from people higher in rank and lower in rank?” “Can you provide examples from experience?” One characteristic of certified assholes is that they tend to demean those who are less powerful while brown-nosing their superiors.
2. Can’t take it: “Does the prospective boss accept criticism or blame when the going gets tough?” Be wary of people who constantly dish out criticism but can’t take a healthy dose themselves.
3. Short fuse: “In what situations have you seen the prospective boss lose his temper?” Sometimes anger is justified or even effective when used sparingly, but someone who “shoots-the-messenger” too often can breed a climate of fear in the workplace. Are co-workers scared of getting in an elevator with this person?
4. Bad credit: “Which style best describes the prospective boss: gives out gratuitous credit, assigns credit where credit is due, or believes everyone should be their own champion?” This question opens the door to discuss whether or not someone tends to take a lot of credit while not recognizing the work of his or her team.
5. Canker sore: “What do past collaborators say about working with the prospective boss?” Assholes usually have a history of infecting teams with nasty and dysfunctional conflict. The world seems willing to tolerate talented assholes, but that doesn’t mean you have to.
6. Flamer: What kind of email sender is the prospective boss? Most assholes cannot contain themselves when it comes to email: flaming people, carbon-copying the world, blind carbon copying to cover his own buttocks. Email etiquette is a window into one’s soul.
7. Downer: “What types of people find it difficult to work with the prospective boss? What type of people seem to work very well with the prospective boss?” Pay attention to responses that suggest “strong-willed” or “self-motivated” people tend to work best with the prospective boss because assholes tend to leave people around them feeling de-energized and deflated.
8. Card shark: “Does the prospective boss share information for everyone’s benefit?” A tendency to hold cards close to one’s chest—i.e., a reluctance to share information—is a sign that this person treats co-workers as competitors who must be defeated so he or she can get ahead.
9. Army of one: “Would people pick the prospective boss for their team?” Sometimes there is upside to having an asshole on your team, but that won’t matter if the coworkers refuse to work with that person. Use this question to help determine if the benefit of having the prospective boss on your team outweighs any asshole behaviors.
10. Open architecture: “How would the prospective boss respond if a copy of The No Asshole Rule appeared on her desk?” Be careful if the answer is, “Duck!”
More Resources on Client Relationships