The Designated Asshole: Lessons from my Dad on Leadership

Kathryn Grayson Nanz on July 10, 2017

When I was young, my dad sat me down and gave me one of the most helpful pieces of advice I've ever heard – if I ever got into a difficult situat... [Read Full]
markdown guide

I've always liked the DA leadership style, and agree it actually prevents a lot of conflicts in the first place. In a similar idea, in my most junior role we had a "shield." The topmost guy could be really intense and demanding (chasing the perfect platform). Our team lead soon became a strict interface between him and the dev team. Together they were really effective at figuring out what the problem was and making a game plan to go fast while not stressing out the team and adding a ton of technical debt.


Love this, everyone needs a Designated Asshole. lololol. Especially valuable for junior roles where the confidence is lacking to push back, like you said.
Also great parenting advice, your dad sounds like an awesome person. :D


Yeah, he's pretty cool, I guess. Just don't tell him I said so ;)


It's the perfect name! xD

I use my boss when I'm really busy and a person wants to modify the system "I cannot help you with your suggestions because my boss is an asshole".

Years ago we (4 programmers) were so busy and our boss send us a new project that require the four of us to work nights and weekends, he just wanted to impress someone in the company, we don't wanted to waste time on a big project just for that reason, we were worried and don't have a excuse to say no. I decided to refuse, I told to my teammates that I will take the blame, I will be the excuse for them and they will say "the project cannot be done with only 3 people because x person refused". I was the designated Asshole xD


While we're on the subject of your family, I (small world) met your uncle at OSCON and he was most certainly not an asshole, Kathryn.

Tell me if I'm remembering this wrong and that was not your uncle.


Yes, that was him – he mentioned meeting you there as well! That's actually my dad's brother, and no, neither of them are assholes. 😂 Although I'm starting to get the feeling that I'm gonna catch a bit of shit from both of them over this article, hahaha.


This is brilliant, it's almost precisely how I manage but I never had a term for it as good as this.

I saw my role as building an anti-stupid wall around my team.

The problem is that the workplace, no matter what people say, is full of idiots and bullies and some people are not capable of standing up to them.

Designated Arseholes are essential to combat this.


I have to say, I really like "building an anti-stupid wall" as a term as well, haha!


Really nice article, unfortunately in my career so far, I have a yet to find an upper management person who is ready to take stand for their team.

Most of the time their outlook has been, don’t come to me if it hasn’t been escalated. And on escalation they will blame everything on team or the developer.


If you want to enforce quality in an organization (especially a start up where speed is king), a designated asshole is necessary to pull the organization to the next level.

If you have ever seen the Quora post Moving Fast With High Quality Code:, you can use that as a reference.


This is awesome. The DA (Designated Asshole) just needs to remember that there's responsibility along with the power. It takes a fair-minded and ego-free person, who's interested in doing right rather than being right, to make an effective DA.


Real talk though-I am totally about this role. I have no problem being the DA all day.


The DA means a lot to their co-workers. Some people dislike conflict and need a DA to support them.

Being a DA is such service!


You totally nailed it! I have been doing this for a while now without knowing it.
if not a Trophy, maybe we can try to get DA as an official job-title?


I have started thinking and placing all the designated assholes in my life now ... Great article!


I did not know that the role I enjoy to play had a lovely name. DA. Well... may be dA in my case...

code of conduct - report abuse