Following up on my previous post on this... On Sutton's blog, he has a No Asshole Rule Roundup of comments he's gotten. One is quite well-taken: the subtle asshole is just as bad or worse than the flamingly obvious asshole, in their effect on morale. Sutton agrees: "Indeed, these more subtle assholes actually can often get away with doing more damage than their more 'over the top' and less politically skilled counterparts."
While googling around, I ran into this well-observed book review: Disorganized, Incompetent and Dangerous: Workers Dislike Manager Incompetence Even More Than Abuse, Study Suggests. The review is for a book I have since ordered but not yet read, Dignity at Work, by Randy Hodson. Some points from the article about it:
He found that abuse by managers was significantly connected to negative employee actions such as absenteeism and withholding effort on the job. However, the research found an even greater connection between mismanagement and these same negative employee actions.
"Nobody likes abuse, but employees can find ways to work around abusive managers. But employees don't want to be involved with chaotic, mismanaged workplaces where nothing gets done well and people feel like they can't be effective," said Randy Hodson, professor of sociology at Ohio State.
"The thing that undermines dignity more than anything is incompetence and mismanagement."
I spoke with someone recently who told me how much he'd learned from someone competent who had managed with a big stick approach, arguably an asshole by Sutton's criteria. But he had respected the guy anyway. It seemed to me in listening that he had tolerated it while he was learning, and then moved on to a more humane work environment. You decide the moral, if there is one.