I Became an Asshole at Work

And for some reason my career took off

Photo by rupixen.com on Unsplash

I reached a point in my career where a couple of things happened that turned me into an asshole.

  • One, I got good at my job. I had been doing it over a decade and became comfortable that any and everything thrown my way I could take care of.
  • Two, I started becoming fed up with office politics, red tape, bureaucracy, the constantly evolving regulations of my profession, and the constant need to focus on the unimportant.
  • Three, I started acting like someone you might expect to act based on points one and two.

I was at a point in my career where I needed a change. Perhaps a new job, perhaps a complete career change.

I didn’t leave the job immediately. Because I was good at it, they paid me decent money, and well I wasn’t sure yet what the alternative was.

My career started blossoming at this point

Ain’t that a kick in the…

As soon as I stopped caring, I started to get all of the respect, pats on the back, raises and opportunities that I had been working so hard for.

What happened

An asshole has certain traits. Some bad and some good.

We tend to think of the bad ones because of the negative connotations of the word. But the good traits can go a long way in the workplace.

I became more decisive. I got things done.

I became impatient. I didn’t have time to deal with bullshit anymore. This forced others to make decisions quickly and get things done quickly if they were working with me.

When it clicked

The career I had was as an auditor. I worked on the audits of large companies. I, as a manager, ran a team of professionals who had to audit a companies financials. This meant going through all the numbers, transactions, financial systems etc. with a fine-tooth comb. Then documenting everything to a level that it could be reviewed later by government regulators. All by a deadline set by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and dealing with employees of a company that had their own job to do closing their own books and to whom you were just a nuisance.

Photo by Mario Gogh on Unsplash

If deadlines were missed there were consequences. These weren’t internal deadlines. They were set by the U.S. Government.

So, to be fair there was a lot of oversight and micromanaging making sure those deadlines aren’t missed. A lot of time is dedicated to checking in. Is this done yet? When is this going to be done? Have we started on this yet? Checking in by partners, controllers and CFOs.

For a team of people already working crazy hours trying to get the job done this can really slow things down. To be fair, checking in can help, sometimes a problem is raised, and a higher up can expedite something, or guidance can be given to move things along faster.

But mostly it just slows things down.

At a certain point I just was done. The partner checking in is one thing. In my job, you end up working with them closely for long periods of time, so the checking in can be kept minimal. The client (i.e. the controller and CFO) however, was a different thing.

I had one CFO who would come into the audit room sporadically. Asking a bunch of questions, checking in on progress, making sure this or that thing was going to get done ASAP. Basically, just checking in on any and everything that popped into his head.

If by chance he saw someone wasn’t there, he would inquire about them.

“Mike taking a break again, huh?”

I realized he had been burned in the past, so at first I just ignored it.

But this was around the time my levels of give a fuck were plummeting.

I had recently taken a couple of years to work in a different role in the firm. Then returned to the audit world. It was somewhere around here that things clicked that nothing in this job was ever going to change. It would be the same politics, bureaucracy, inane regulations and issues over and over again for the rest of my career.

So, after noticing how much he was putting the team on edge, realizing that people were wasting time putting together reports and tracking things in new ways to provide him updates I put a stop to it.

I went into his office. Told him if any issues came up, I would bring them to him. But he needed to stay away from my team. He was getting in the way and slowing us down.

I wasn’t nice. But he did listen and he never stopped by the audit room again that year.

I was of course just a bit worried after doing this. I wasn’t really worried about losing my job or anything. But still, it wasn’t a pleasant conversation. Mostly stony silence on his part. Not sure what experience you have with C level execs but they have a way of conveying a type of attitude that says not only can I end your job, but I can make sure you never work in this town again.

I found out a couple months later after the audit. The CFO praised me to the partner. Asked to make sure I was going to be on the job the following year. Said I did a fantastic job.

Which just to make clear. In this situation the CFO is the client on a multi-million-dollar contract for our firm. So, things like this go a long way in terms of leading to raises, promotions, career progression etc.

It wasn’t my pleasant personality that got me ahead. It was the knowledge I conveyed through my attitude that I was confident. This led them to believe I would get what they needed done in a timely manner.

I became more honest. No more white lies. I became more blunt and delivered bad news because I just wanted to get whatever it was fixed.

People knew exactly where they stood with me, which led to respect, which actually led to people liking me more. Everyone wanted to work with me.

Because I was an asshole. Weird huh?


You have probably heard of the big five personality traits. Openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

We are talking about agreeableness here. Or rather the lack of agreeableness.

“Agreeableness — This trait involves how easygoing and tolerant versus how intense and potentially irritable a person behaves. Are you someone who goes through life in a fairly calm fashion or do you get frustrated frequently? Easygoing people may be easy to get along with but may also lack drive and determination. Intense and irritable people may be highly driven and goal oriented but may also ruffle feathers or worse.” quote from managementpsychology.com

A lot of studies as to agreeableness in the workplace have been done. Things like those that are agreeable tend to be better team players and are seen as nice, friendly and easy to work with. As well, as those that are agreeable have been shown to make less money and work longer hours.

“The researchers examined “agreeableness” using self-reported survey data and found that men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% more — or $9,772 more annually in their sample — than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.” ~ the wsj.com

So, there are upsides and downsides to being agreeable.

Stands to reason there would be upsides and downsides to being an asshole.

Instead of looking at being an asshole in a bad way. Realize that it is just a personality trait. If you learn to, you can utilize when it’s appropriate and put away when it’s not.

“results showed entrepreneurs to be significantly lower than managers on Neuroticism and Agreeableness. Consequently, entrepreneurs are more self-confident, resilient, and stress-tolerant than non-entrepreneurial managers. These results make sense considering the highly stressful, demanding, and chaotic work environments which entrepreneurs usually find themselves.” quote from managementpsychology.com

Per management psychology as a manager I should have been more agreeable. But reading through the quote, perhaps it worked as I was a manager in a “highly stressful, demanding, and chaotic work environment.”

You can’t always be an asshole

In my case, I had a job that I had to get done. And I had to encourage, motivate, and basically do whatever I can to get a team of professionals to get the job done. If I was just walking around like an asshole all the time, they would have hated me, not worked quite as hard, and I would have failed big time.

I had to, in fact, be quite agreeable. Especially when dealing with those at the levels below me. I had to at different times coach, teach, advice, counsel and be a sounding board for them to vent. I did all of this happily. I enjoyed coaching and mentoring. I viewed that as one of the perks of the job.

But when the time was right I turned around and became the asshole when it was required. Every time I put my foot down, said no to something. It won me nothing but respect.

It can never be personal

But here’s the key part. It can never be personal. If you act decisively with someone it can never be from a place of contempt. You cannot blame them, talk down to them on a personal level, or lash out at them in type of way.

I believe the reason this worked so well for me is it was 100% internal. I never held any contempt for those around me that were causing issues, or made a mistake. I just calmly and dispassionately worked to fix the issue, whatever it was.

The giant flaw in all of this I’m sure you’ve figured out is if you don’t care about your job none of this matters. There are bigger issues.

But still not a bad lesson to learn. Sometimes being the asshole can have positive consequences.

Guess that’s what I have to figure out next is how to care about my job and still be an asshole.

Finance professional with a passion for reading, writing, history, economics and the world.

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