MBA Program No Asshole Rule

Building a Civilized MBA Program and Surviving One That Isn’t

Stanford University professor Robert I. Sutton starts his New York Times bestseller book, The No Asshole Rule saying, “When I encounter a mean-spirited person, the first thing I think is: ‘Wow, what an asshole!’”

My version of his statement, “When I encounter a mean-spirited and obnoxious MBA student, the first thing I think is: Wow, what an asshole!” Most of the time I did not share this thought with anyone. However, during MBA class periods when a particularly obnoxious MBA student acted like a jerk, you could see by the expressions on faculty members’ and students’ faces  there was a consensus that this student was indeed an MBA asshole.

MBA programs have their share of assholes. As hard as they try to filter them out, MBA program recruiters and admission committees do on occasion accept one or two assholes into a class. Furthermore, deans and department chairs will sometimes assign asshole faculty members to teach an MBA class. With this in mind, and staying with the title of Dr. Sutton’s book, I want to ask, “Does your MBA program have a no asshole rule?” If not, should your MBA program adopt a no asshole rule?

How do you identify if a person is acting like an asshole?

To assess properly the need for such a rule you may want to consider starting with Dr. Sutton’s two tests for spotting whether a person is acting like an asshole. This way you can see if there is anyone associated with your MBA program that you would describe as a “bully, creep, jerk, weasel, tormentor, tyrant, serial slammer, or asshole.”

  • Test One: After talking to the alleged asshole, does the “target” feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him- or herself?
  • Test Two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?

You can award the title of asshole to anyone that meets either of the two tests. In the context of an MBA program, these tests are helpful in identifying MBA assholes.

For the more adventuresome, you can see if you are a “Certified Asshole” by using Guy Kawasaki’s online self-assessment tool , which uses the self-test found in Dr. Sutton’s book. Perhaps a way to start a class or team discussion regarding a no asshole rule would be to suggest that everyone complete the online self-assessment. The results, even if not shared could lead to an interesting discussion and the possible adoption of a no asshole rule.

Why adopt a no asshole rule for your MBA program?

Dr. Sutton points out, “Every organization needs the no asshole rule because mean-spirited people do massive damage to victims, bystanders who suffer the ripple effects, organizational performance, and themselves.” MBA programs included. In an MBA program, these effects often result in less collaboration between students and faculty, less class discussions, reduced knowledge sharing, and less learning on the part of students and faculty not to mention the impact on a program’s reputation and future recruiting efforts.

Whether it is the MBA program or an MBA class that establishes the no asshole rule, in most cases there is a need for one. On more than one occasion, I have seen students comment in their MBA program’s exit survey about the adverse effects of an asshole classmate, team member, or faculty member.

So back to my question, does your MBA program have a no asshole rule? If so, please share it with us and tell us how your program manages the rule. On the other hand, if there is no rule, how do you deal with asshole MBA students and faculty members in your program?

Rodney G. Alsup, D.B.A., CPA, CITP
Founder –

[Image is from Microsoft Clip Art]

6 comments for “MBA Program No Asshole Rule

  1. August 6, 2011 at 9:11 am

    I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.

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    • August 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      Thank you for the feedback. Please let me know if there are other topics that would be of interest to you.

  2. May Avery
    October 30, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    We had our first class last week and so far, I didn’t find anybody I would classify as an asshole, so I guess a rule against that kind is not needed. Still, I like the idea of adopting such rule. This is my first MBA class and so I have not seen the “bad” yet 🙂

    • November 2, 2011 at 7:06 am

      I hope you never see or experience any “bad” in your program. My experience as a faculty member is that when high achievers and competitive individuals are put in a classroom or team environment, the asshole behavior of some individuals can surface. Establishing a “no asshole” rule can prevent the behavior and if not prevent can provide guidance on how to deal with it. Perhaps “prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a saying that applies in the case of MBA programs and the no asshole rule.

      Good luck with your MBA program.

  3. Kathy
    May 26, 2014 at 8:09 am

    I am not aware if my program has a no asshole rule at northeastern. But there are a few assholes that I have encountered. I am trying my hardest to stay peaceful and engage with someone who is so destructive. I would classify some of the students as jackasses instead. They are not always aware of how they come across or they don’t care. Thus what I call Jackass. The best way to get them back is to truly ignore them.

    • May 30, 2014 at 10:03 am

      There is a high probability that your program does not have such a rule.

      For the most part, ignoring them is a good approach. However, for those individuals that are not aware of how they come across there may be opportunities during your program to provide them constructive feedback. Sometimes taking advantage of these opportunities can be a good learning experience for both of you. Also, I am not sure it is as much about getting them back as it is not letting them affect your performance and learning.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and for making a comment.

      Good Luck with your program.

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