A book list for intellectual activists and difference makers

In my forthcoming law review article, “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law” (Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice), I include an annotated bibliography of some 40 books that provide insights and guidance on intellectual activism, which I define “as both a philosophy and a methodology for engaging in scholarship relevant to real-world problems and challenges, putting its prescriptions into action, and learning from the process and results of implementation.”

Here are 10 representative listings from that bibliography. You may freely download a draft of the article, which contains the full bibliography, here.


Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendall, and Steve Max, Organizing for Social Change: Midwest Academy Manual for Activists 4th ed. (2010). Manual for grassroots activists by leading trainers and educators associated with the Midwest Academy, which has trained thousands of activists since its creation in 1973.

Community and the World: Participating in Social Change (Torry D. Dickinson, ed., 2003). This valuable and welcomed collection of articles covers many topics related to community-based learning, adult education, and scholarly activism, featuring a multicultural and global orientation. A diverse array of educators, learners, and social change agents contributed to it.

John-Paul Flintoff, How to Change the World (2012). Provides a trenchant historical and practical overview on the different ways to make an impact on society.

Howard Gardner, Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds (2004). The renowned psychologist examines how people change their minds on matters ranging from everyday choices to major social and political issues.

Robert Jensen, We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out (2013). A journalism professor, Jensen urges intellectuals to be “responsibly apocalyptic” in helping us to understand and confront the economic and social challenges of our era.

Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett, How to Write for a General Audience: A Guide for Academics Who Want to Share Their Knowledge With the World and Have Fun Doing It (2007). Helpful, encouraging guidebook for those who want to translate their research for more general audiences via articles, books, and social media.

George Lakoff, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (2006). Linguistics professor Lakoff applies his expertise to political communication, suggesting ways in which progressives can more effectively persuade the public.

Michelle E. Martin, Advocacy for Social Justice: A Global Perspective (2015). Interesting takes on social justice advocacy, framed by human services and social work perspectives.

The Public Intellectual (Helen Small, ed., 2002). Sampling of perspectives on the role of public intellectuals in society. The late Edward Said’s essay, “The Public Role of Writers and Intellectuals,” is particularly recommended.

Telling Stories to Change the World (Rickie Sollinger, Madeline Fox & Kayhan Irani, eds. 2008). Stimulating collection of essays about storytelling as a strategy for social justice advocacy on a global scale.

Let’s make character a primary criterion for selecting leaders

Think about it: What if individual character was a primary criterion for selecting our leaders in business, the public sector, and the non-profits? How would that improve our organizations, our society, and our quality of work life?

On Friday and Saturday, I hosted a workshop for a group of lawyers and law professors who affiliate themselves with therapeutic jurisprudence, a legal philosophy that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of our laws and legal systems. TJ, as we call it, implicitly embraces legal outcomes that support psychological health and well-being. We enjoyed two great days of insightful, spirited, supportive discussions. I’ll be writing more about the overall workshop soon.

As often occurs at TJ-related gatherings, the side conversations with our colleagues plant more seeds of interest. During the wrap-up group dinner at a local Boston eatery, TJ co-founder David Wexler and I were discussing the topic of introverts vs. extroverts, prompted by David’s reading of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012). Cain suggests that society’s attraction to extroverted personality traits correlates with our downplay of individual character; the “Culture of Personality” has triumphed over the “Culture of Character.”

The observation rings true for me. All too often, being able to sell one’s self in the room has become a dominant factor in selecting our leaders. Flash, style, and charisma — the “wow” impact — may crowd out other qualities that have deeper and longer-term significance. Character is among those qualities sometimes given the short shrift.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, however, if characteristics such as moral courage, honesty, empathy, and maturity were placed front and center in what we look for in our leaders? Think of what a better place the world would be if we did. Even we find ourselves swimming upstream on this one, when selecting leaders we should look at individual character and urge others to do the same.

Can a quirky band of law professors, lawyers, and judges transform the law and legal profession?

Guest blog post at https://mainstreamtj.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/mainstreaming-therapeutic-jurisprudence-challenges-and-opportunities-in-the-united-states/

My guest blog post examining the challenges of mainstreaming therapeutic jurisprudence in the U.S.

This Friday and Saturday, I’ll be hosting a workshop for a group of lawyers and law professors who affiliate themselves with therapeutic jurisprudence, a legal philosophy that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of our laws and legal systems. TJ, as we call it, implicitly embraces legal outcomes that support psychological health and well-being. We’ll be gathering at Suffolk University Law School for two great days of informal presentations and thoughtful exchanges.

Much of our discussion will be devoted to how North American TJ scholars and practitioners can mainstream a philosophical lens that, despite some genuine advances, exists somewhat on the periphery of legal thought. In fact, last month I wrote a guest post for the Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream blog, examining some of the challenges that face TJ adherents in the U.S. as we attempt to grow our numbers, visibility, and influence. Here are a couple of snippets:

American lawyers and judges learn very early in their legal training – commonly, during the first year of law school – of the law’s discomfort with psychology, whether in interpreting tricky issues of intent or wrestling with how to incorporate insanity or incapacity into legal decision making. Furthermore, emotions are regarded as messy, getting in the way of analysis. When it comes to dealing with legal disputes, it’s easier to get the parties’ stories and apply rules to facts, hopefully without too much mucking around in the human mind and complicated feelings.


I offer the hypothesis that many American lawyers, judges, legislators, and law students have little idea of how truly miserable the standard-brand civil or criminal litigation experience can be for most parties to a legal dispute. Being a party to litigation is, at best, a major distraction from more life-affirming activities, and often proves expensive, time consuming, intimidating, fearful, and stressful, with significant stakes in the result.

We’ll have lots of good stuff to talk about! I look forward to welcoming participants David Wexler (TJ co-founder), Indira Azizi, Susan Brooks, Caroline Cooper, Heather Ellis Cucolo, Michael Jones, Shelley Kierstead, Alison Lynch, Michael Perlin, Amanda Peters, Marjorie Silver, and Carol Zeiner.


Related posts

Mainstreaming psychological well-being in the law: TJ’s challenge (2015)

Academic conferences: When small is beautiful (2014) 

A psych assessment of Donald Trump and what it says about our civic culture


Huffington Post science and health writer Carolyn Gregoire has interviewed mental health experts to gauge the psychological make-up of presidential candidate Donald Trump. The assessments aren’t exactly surprising for a man who constantly berates, belittles, and diminishes others. Here’s a sampling:

“In watching Donald Trump in the Republican debates, he comes across as someone who is self-centered and lacking in humility….” (Taya Cohen, Carnegie-Mellon University)

“Narcissists like Donald Trump…are constantly driven to prove themselves among the ‘winners’ of the world, often by triumphing over or denigrating other people as comparative ‘losers….” (Joseph Burgo, psychotherapist and author)

“In general, people like that make a good first impression, but become difficult to work with over time because they feel entitled to special treatment, ignore criticism, and intimidate others…” (Ryne Sherman, personality psychologist, Florida Atlantic University)

The good news? He’s apparently not a Machiavellian who tells people what they want to hear for the sake of manipulating them.

Hate crime expert’s opinion

Hate crime expert Randy Blazak (Portland State University) has devoted his career to studying messaging and communications from groups like the KKK and Nazi sympathizers. He offers a disturbing analysis of Trump’s views on immigrants and racial minorities:

So when I say that presidential candidate Donald Trump is a racist hate-monger it’s not just a political pejorative. He has a constitutional right to hold and express racist views, but using those views to manipulate the intellectually vulnerable and mobilize active bigots requires a coherent response. As an expert on hate, I am more than comfortable stating that either Trump is a virulent racist or that he is willing to perform racism and use racism of others to advance his political position.

Bullying culture

At this juncture, Donald Trump is leading in many polls of Republican primary contenders. While I comprehend the potential appeal of a seemingly no-nonsense leader who promises to get things done in Washington D.C., let’s not confuse this brand of toxic, empathy-free “plain talk” with the qualities we need in our next President.

He has tapped into an ugly vein of American society that thrives on incivility and intolerance. His rhetoric is alarmingly free of evidence of kindness or human understanding. I wrote about America’s bullying culture some four years ago, and I think these characterizations apply to Trump:

In the U.S., we put bullying bosses on a pedestal. In fact, here’s a celebrated Harvard Business Review article by organizational behavior professor Roderick Kramer…, praising the “great intimidators” of the management world:

They are not averse to causing a ruckus, nor are they above using a few public whippings and ceremonial hangings to get attention.

Kramer insists that the great intimidators aren’t your “typical bullies” driven by ego and the desire to humiliate others. No, he claims, these are people of vision.

…or do we get the leaders we deserve?

A recent Yahoo News commentary by Jerry Adler caused me to ask myself, once again, if we simply get the leaders we deserve.

Adler was writing about the potential presidential candidacy of Vice President Joseph Biden, who lost his son Beau, 46, to brain cancer a little over three months ago. Understandably, that terrible loss has been a major factor, if not the major factor, weighing on Biden’s mind as he wrestles with the decision of whether or not to run.

Some of the Vice President’s grief has played out on the public stage. As a presidential candidate, however, Adler suggests that any signs of emotional weakness would not be tolerated:

As a grieving father, Biden is permitted to show his emotions in public, but as a candidate, he can only show strength.

In the piece, Adler speculates how Biden might react if Donald Trump, as the Republican nominee, questioned his capacity to serve in light of his son’s death.

There are few more grueling marathons than a full-on presidential campaign. Joe Biden knows this as well as anyone else. However, the truism that candidates “can only show strength” is disturbing evidence of how American political discourse is stuck in a retrograde emotional zone where stereotypical “toughness” is valued highly and other displays of feelings must be tempered or hidden.

Anybody here, seen my old friend Abraham…

Okay, so you’ve probably figured out that I could never vote for Donald Trump. But I’m not making an unqualified case for Joe Biden, either. For now, I’d simply like a better array of announced choices.

In considering those choices, let’s reject any embrace of narcissistic, intolerant, bullying so-called leaders. Instead, let’s look for the kind of rich humanity evident in someone like Abraham Lincoln, America’s greatest President. Lincoln was no pushover; when he had to, he played the game rough. But he was driven by deeper core values and goals. Three years ago, in a piece asking about our heroes in public life, I wrote:

During the Civil War, Lincoln was burdened by a difficult marriage and the death of a beloved young son, and he struggled with what now would be diagnosed as clinical depression.

…I get why figures like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean so much to so many people. And I understand why Ronald Reagan is so beloved by conservatives.

However, in searching for the qualities of wisdom, compassion, resilience, and courage that we need today, I keep returning to Abraham Lincoln as a singular figure worthy of study and emulation.

Yes, I know that invoking Lincoln is aiming awfully high. But it sure beats the typical political fare served up on cable news these days.

Good works and good people


l to r: Susan Thomas, Peggy Berry, Denise Doherty, DY, Greg Sorozan, and Gary Namie

l to r: Susan Thomas, Peggy Berry, Denise Doherty, DY, Greg Sorozan, and Gary Namie

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years is that when you’re engaged in work and activities that feel right, you often find yourself connecting with exceptional people who bring a positive presence to the world.

As I wrote in my last post, on Wednesday I had the pleasure of addressing the annual awards banquet of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) in Washington, D.C. It was a great opportunity to share with fellow dinner attendees the work we have been doing in the states to advance the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.

I was very fortunate to have at my table a group of dear friends, many of whom have been active in the workplace anti-bullying movement. After the dinner, several of us gathered at the podium for the picture above. It was a treat to spend the evening with these people.

Sometimes you find the right groove and good things start to materialize. Yeah, I know this sounds like metaphysical stuff that might be greeted with skepticism. But I’ve seen it happen with others, too, time and again. To amplify this point, let me share with you a slightly edited excerpt from my forthcoming law review article, “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law” (forthcoming in the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice):

Follow Your Bliss and Let One Thing Lead to Another

The late Joseph Campbell’s writings and lectures on mythology, faith traditions, and the world’s societies made him a singular authority on the human experience. He first appeared on the radar screens of many people via a PBS series of televised interviews with Bill Moyers — “The Power of Myth” — that premiered in 1988. Campbell’s most famous advice in one of those segments, now repeated on many occasions, was “follow your bliss.” He suggested that following our bliss can lead us to life paths in which opportunities and connections seem to materialize before us. In the PBS series, Campbell replied to a Moyers question about whether “hidden hands” guide and facilitate our work once we have found our path:

All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time — namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you….

I realize that “follow your bliss” can morph easily into the most banal forms of encouragement. Joseph Campbell was not a superficial person, but his signature line is tailor made for every soon-to-be-forgotten commencement speech or career pep talk, of which there are many. Furthermore, not everyone has the opportunity to follow this advice. Especially for those who are struggling to put food on the table and to keep a roof over their heads, such beyond-survival aspirations may appear to be unrealistic and even unattainable. However, with a leap of faith, I will assume that many readers here are likely to be blessed with some degree of choice over the activities they pursue and are motivated to make a positive difference during their lives.

As Campbell suggests, following one’s bliss is not a static state of being; rather, it leads to connections and people. On this point I appeal to Drs. John Bilorusky and Cynthia Lawrence of the Western Institute for Social Research (WISR), a tiny, non-traditional university in Berkeley, California, devoted to social change and community engagement. They are fond of invoking the phrase, “one thing leads to another,” and they cite, as examples, WISR students whose learning projects, grounded in socially relevant topics of deep personal interest, have led them to connections and difference-making opportunities they may not have anticipated when they embarked on their work.

Practicing in an intellectual activist mode, I have experienced a connectivity that echoes both Campbell (“you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open doors to you”) and Bilorusky & Lawrence (“one thing leads to another”). It is a place where one’s networks, circles, and tribes feel right in terms of shared or compatible goals, and where one’s activities and values are largely congruent. Some may experience this coalescence earlier in life. For me, the pieces did not come together until my fifties. I am extraordinarily grateful that they eventually did.



One thing that wasn’t in sync at the ADA awards banquet was our technological know-how. I had hoped to post a video of my speech from Wednesday night, but unfortunately we had a glitch with the camera. Suffice it to say, however, that steady readers of this blog know most of what I had to say. I gave special attention to the progress that we’ve made in Massachusetts in moving the Healthy Workplace Bill through various committees in the legislature.


Thank you!

A big thank you to those who took out program ads to support me, including SEIU/NAGE Local 282 (Greg Sorozan, President), Workplace Bullying Institute (Drs. Gary & Ruth Namie), Denise Doherty & Brian McCrane, Suffolk University Law School, Gail Almeida, and Jessica Stensrud. I also appreciated the many individuals, unions, and ADA local chapters who bought ads honoring all of the night’s awardees.

Bringing news of the workplace anti-bullying movement to the nation’s capital

Honored at ADA Annual Banquet: U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT), and your blog host

Honored at ADA Annual Banquet yesterday: U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT), and yours truly

Last night I received the Winn Newman Equality Award for my scholarship and advocacy on workplace bullying and workers’ rights at the annual awards banquet of Americans for Democratic Action in Washington D.C. I was one of three featured honorees, joining U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut).

ADA is a venerable political and policy advocacy organization that has long championed workers’ rights and interests. I was on its national board for many years and served a term as its board chair.

Last night’s event gave me an opportunity to share with a well-networked D.C. audience the work we have been doing in various states to make the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill a reality. It appeared that my remarks were informative and well-received. We also were treated to wonderful speeches by Senator Brown and Representative DeLauro, whose support of working people in this country is second to none.

I was joined at my table by a group of dear friends, many of whom have been active in workers’ rights and workplace anti-bullying efforts for years, including Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute and Greg Sorozan of the National Association of Government Employees. The dinner also gave me a chance to reconnect with friends from ADA. In fact, I’m pleased to report that I’ll be rejoining the ADA board as an at-large member.


Whaddya mean, “don’t go back to school”?!

It may seem odd for a university professor to be recommending a book whose title and content are all about not going back to school. But I’ve had Kio Stark’s Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything (2013) on my bookshelf for some time now, and I finally took a good look at it over the weekend. I like it!

Don’t Go Back to School is a terrific collection of essays by individuals who opted out or dropped out of degree programs (both undergraduate and graduate) to plot their own learning paths and achieved creative and vocational successes. It’s also a helpful resource guide for folks who want to explore ways to apply these lessons to their own learning and work.

Kio Stark is a writer and self-described “independent learning activist” who describes the book this way on her website:

Here is a radical truth: school doesn’t have a monopoly on learning. More and more people are declining traditional education and college degrees. Instead they’re getting the knowledge, training, and inspiration they need outside of the classroom. Drawing on extensive research and over 100 interviews with independent learners, Kio Stark offers the ultimate guide to learning without school. Don’t Go Back to School provides models and methods for taking a new kind of path through learning, and transforming that alternative education into an exciting career path. This inspiring, practical guide provides concrete strategies and resources for getting started as an independent learner. If you’re debating whether college, trade school, or independent learning will get you where you want to be, Don’t Go Back to School is essential reading.

I’m all for enrolling in degree programs that meet an individual’s needs and interests. A formal degree program with quality instruction, mentoring, and networking opportunities can be a powerful and useful experience. In today’s workplace, a bachelor’s degree, while falling short of being an absolutely essential credential, is nevertheless an important door opener for entering many fields. In vocational areas requiring some type of licensure, completion of formal degree or learning programs may be a necessity.

However, I’m also a big fan of independent, self-directed learning, as these previous posts attest:


Beyond graduation: On becoming a lifelong learner (2015) — “In addition, two guides to lifelong learning by one of my favorite authors, Ronald Gross, are also worth picking up: The first is Peak Learning (1999), which incorporates advice and insights in Ron’s friendly, encouraging writing voice. The second is Socrates’ Way: Seven Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost (2002), which draws on the life and lessons of the Greek philosopher to teach us how to enrich our lives and enhance our thinking. In terms of references to computer technology, both books are slightly dated, but the content remains extremely useful and inspiring.”

What is a “Ulyssean adult,” and how can you become one? (2012) — “What kind of life do you want to live? And as age creeps up on you, how do you want to spend the rest of your life? I recently discovered an intriguing book about adult development, The Ulyssean Adult: Creativity in the Middle & Later Years (1976), by the late John A.B. McLeish, a Canadian education professor. Unfortunately it’s out of print, but if you’re interested in this topic, it’s worth hunting down a copy. Judging from The Ulyssean Adult, McLeish was not a warm and fuzzy self-help writer. His observations can be sharp-edged and may cause discomfort, as he was not one to pull punches.”

To find resources, become a “buccaneer scholar” and a relentless scout (2010)– “One of my favorite books about self-education and lifelong learning is James Marcus Bach’s Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar (2009). Bach is a high school dropout who taught himself computer programming, got in early at Apple Computer, and has become a leading software testing expert. His book is all about the philosophy and practice of being a self-directed, independent learner.”


Don’t Go Back to School is a worthy addition to the body of literature on lifelong learning. The individual essays are instructive and inspiring, and the resource listings are practical and helpful. For those who are weighing options and changes, this is a good read. It also might open up some exciting possibilities.

Trust and the benefit of the doubt at work

Over the past week, I found myself thinking a lot about this seemingly trite phrase in connection with the experience of work: Benefit of the doubt. We use it all the time, in many different settings. It basically means that even if we’re not sure of something or someone, we’re willing to give them a chance to prove their worthiness.

Extending a benefit of the doubt may serve as a powerful expression of trust and support. Consequently, it can be enormously gratifying when a benefit of the doubt turns out to be justified. Our trust is strengthened, we see results that make us happy, and — yes — we pat ourselves on the back for our good judgment.

All things being equal, I’d rather be around people who are likely to extend a benefit of the doubt than those who are not, including at the workplace. I think it makes us kinder, more encouraging colleagues and co-workers. And we may very well benefit when others return the favor to us.

However, what happens when our trust is breached? How do we regard individuals or organizations who — by their very actions — reveal themselves to be wholly unworthy of that benefit of the doubt?

A lot of folks who find this blog because they’ve experienced abusive work environments have wrestled with these very reactions, responses, and emotions. They extended that trust, they gave that benefit of the doubt, and they were badly burned for doing so.

We know from relationships in other settings that once trust is lost, it’s very, very hard to win back. I wonder if directors and managers of bad workplaces understand the longer term, cultural impacts of losing the trust of their employees? Are they surprised when people refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt?

What’s your hobby?


Hobby: an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation: Her hobbies include stamp-collecting and woodcarving. (Dictionary.com)

So what’s your hobby?

In a blog mostly about work and workplaces, perhaps this question seems misplaced. But especially if work is demanding, stressful, or difficult, a hobby can be a healthy lifeline. Even if you’re fortunate to be in a great job, a hobby can add a richly rewarding activity to your life.

And what better day and time to talk about hobbies than on a Saturday morning?

The best part about a hobby is that it’s all about your own interests and passions. There’s nothing obligatory about it, you can start or stop at any time, and you can define it on your own terms.

At times, money and resources may come into play. If you want to learn how to play an instrument, for example, you’ll probably need some start-up cash. But there are plenty of other hobbies that don’t require a large initial outlay.


When I was growing up, I was a collector. Stamps, coins, baseball cards, you name it. (Yes, the seeds of my, shall we say, archival mentality are planted deep.) As you can see from the photo at the top, I remain on the lookout for interesting postal souvenirs.

Today, I’m an avid reader, a sports fan, and a devotee of bad weather. But my main hobby is singing. For many years, I’ve taken a weekly singing workshop at a local adult education center, and more recently I’ve joined friends from that class for open mic cabaret nights, where we perform our favorite numbers in front of small groups of fellow music lovers. I’m a big fan of the Great American Songbook — the stuff of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Sinatra, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. Musically speaking, at least, I was born 50 years too late!

By endorsing hobbies as a meaningful pastime, I’m not suggesting that they are must-have activities in one’s life. A hobby, by its very essence, is not a required course! Rather, it’s something we embrace for the enjoyment it provides us.

What if you don’t have a hobby and would like to develop one? Asking yourself what interests you is the best place to start. If you need some ideas, you could look at lists of hobbies, such as this one compiled on Wikipedia. Give it some thought, and enjoy.

Jobs on the job are rare: Most cruel bosses aren’t indispensable geniuses


Megan Garber, writing for The Atlantic, uses the premiere of a documentary about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, by Alex Gibney) to examine the complications of idolizing a brilliant creator who also could be a very nasty individual. The new documentary, Garber tells us, does not flinch in examining this side of its subject.

Garber’s own characterization of Jobs, while recognizing his genius, acknowledges his deep flaws:

He could be, on top of so much else, a terrible person. Not just a jerk, occasionally and innocuously, but a bully and a tyrant. . . . Jobs regularly parked his unlicensed Mercedes in handicapped spots. He abandoned the mother of his unborn child, acknowledging his daughter only after a court case proved his paternity. He betrayed colleagues who stopped being useful to him. He made the still-useful ones cry.

Garber and the documentary ask the inevitable questions that crop up whenever “brilliant” and “bully” allegedly combine in one individual, such as whether big positives justify major failings, and whether being a jerk is necessary to succeed.

Of course we know that being a bully or a jerk is not a prerequisite for success. But all too often, people excuse abusive behaviors by claiming these qualities are eccentricities that we must tolerate if certain geniuses are to flourish. I’ve addressed those questions on this blog (here and here), and you can guess where I come out on them.

But more importantly, we need to emphasize this point, lest a massively erroneous assumption become accepted as conventional wisdom:

Most cruel bosses are not indispensable geniuses.

Got it? Most cruel bosses are not indispensable geniuses.

To begin with, people with the creative, entrepreneurial vision of Steve Jobs are rarities. Secondly, the ones who happen to bully and berate are rarer still.

In reality, the most abusive bosses tend to range from competent to bad in other aspects of their job performance. Like the rest of us mere mortals, they are wholly replaceable. In fact, those who cannot get their act together and treat people with a baseline of dignity should be sent down the exit ramp.

Many of these supposed superstars do have a useful skill: They are brilliant at kissing up and kicking down. They stroke and cultivate superiors, who, in turn, react with disbelief when allegations of mistreatment come from subordinates. They create a mythology about their value to the organization. They also have a sixth sense for self-preservation, including a knack for rubbing out those who call attention to their abusive behaviors, without any pangs of conscience to give them pause.

So, the next time you hear folks raise the “Steve Jobs defense” in response to allegations of bullying and abuse, call them on it. It’s very likely that when you dig beneath the surface, you will quickly see that the supposed genius is anything but that.

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