Successful Advisors and Executives Aren’t Nice!
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
By Todd Ordal, CMC
minute we engage with other humans (and even pets!) our parents tell us, "Be
nice!” This is intended to be a catchall for don’t hit, scream, cry or make
someone else feel bad. "Now look at what you did! Little Lisa is crying! Be
As we get
older, we’re rewarded for being nice. When my kids were in elementary school,
their teachers frequently complimented them for being nice, as in, "He hasn’t
turned in any of his homework and has failed the past three tests, but he’s
such a nice boy!”
As adults, we
continue to be rewarded for being nice. My wife is nice. When someone knocks on
the door trying to sell magazine subscriptions or cookies or trim our trees,
she happily has a meaningful conversation with whoever interrupted dinner. Even
when she says no, she says it nicely and only after much justification as to
why she doesn’t need the trees trimmed or another subscription to a magazine
full of ads for $6,000 couches.
much harm in all of this except for lost time and too many Girl Scout cookies
in the pantry. However, when we advise or lead and manage others, being nice is
substantial difference between being nice ("Don’t make Little Lisa cry!”) and
being kind. In the words of a friend, nice is borne out of fear and kind is
borne out of love. Now I’m not going to get all mushy on you (that wouldn’t be
kind), but he’s spot-on. You tell someone you love that he or she is making a
big mistake, even at the risk of offending the person.
doesn’t want to offend the salesperson, so she sacrifices her time to alleviate
any possible rejection on the salesperson’s part. However, a key resource that
salesperson has is time. Spending inordinate amounts of time with nice people
who’ll eventually tell you no only after they’ve gotten to know you is not
kind. A kind response might be, "I’m not interested and don’t want you to waste
your time on me because I’m not purchasing anything.”
When my two
daughters were still living at home, I could count on them to be kind and tell
me that I looked like a nerd when I pulled on some old clothes. I appreciated
that. I also appreciate it when someone tells me I look foolish with a piece of
spinach in my teeth rather than their hoping it’ll come out before I get home
and look in the mirror.
this nice versus kind behavior to the work environment. Nice managers will
always find something to compliment. Kind managers will tell you what you need
to know to succeed, even when the message is that you’re screwing up. Nice
leaders don’t want anyone to feel bad but, in the end, many do—especially the
shareholders. Kind leaders know that leaving weak people on the team means it
won’t succeed as quickly or as well. Nice leaders don’t enforce the rules if
someone will get upset. Tardy behavior is allowed and work product is weak
because to change behavior would require uncomfortable conversations.
know that pushing people to be better, pointing out weaknesses and strengths
and having difficult conversations as soon as warranted leads to much more
success and, ironically, makes most people happier in the long run. They don’t
worry so much about the poor performers who can’t handle kind and assertive
conversations. They kindly escort them out of the company and allow them to
find a nice place to settle.
In my work as
a strategic adviser to senior executives, I’ve seen far too much nice behavior
cause tremendous problems. Avoiding conflict, allowing weak people to impact
others, being nice to vendors who don’t deliver, telling board members and
senior executives what they want to hear rather than the unvarnished truth —
this is not kind behavior. In fact, it destroys value, hampers employment and
creates weak performers.
Being nice is
organization nice or kind? Here are some diagnostic questions:
- Do people speak their minds or
hold back because of what others will think?
- Do weak performers stay employed
even though they add no value?
- If you’re the CEO, do you hear
about problems before they’re catastrophes, or is everything just fine
until the doo-doo hits the fan?
- According to your performance
reviews, is your company like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where
everyone is above average?
- Have you ever reorganized a
department to "work around” an ineffective person?
- Is healthy conflict not only
allowed but also encouraged?
The world is
full of nice people, but only kind ones are effective advisors and executives.
Copyright Todd Ordal, 2011
Todd Ordal, CMC helps senior
executives lead better, profit more or sleep soundly…without narcotics! He can
be reached at 303-527-0417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.