Do the Nice Guys Always Lose?

boston-marathonThis point recently came up in a client discussion, and it resonated all too well with me: “Being nice is an effective leadership quality.” That’s right, I said it.  Being “nice” can get you far in the business world.

There are several arguments against being nice. For instance, a contributed article in Harvard Business Review, draws a correlation of being too nice to “being lazy, inefficient and irresponsible” and argues that this style of leadership can be harmful to individuals and an organization. I wholeheartedly disagree with this and believe there’s a distinct difference between being nice and being ineffective.

Other arguments I’ve heard suggest that leaders who are “nice” are taken advantage of — their employees under perform or there aren’t enough boundaries as a result. Again, I haven’t found this to be true in my experiences.

In my research on the topic, I’ve come across an alternative phrase to describe this style of management: a “relational leader.”  Now that’s something, no pun intended, that I can relate to.  Relating to others and being a leader who exhibits compassion and warmth can help build trust and positivity in a work environment–which in turn can help produce better results for the team and organization overall. Here are 3 proven examples, on why being “nice” and a “relational leader” has helped with my career success:

  1. People want to work hard for those they respect and like.  Whether it’s a direct report or a colleague within an organization, I’ve found time and time again, people want to deliver results or go above and beyond for someone who is supportive of them.  Those who I have managed are more committed to meeting or exceeding the goals I put in place. Those I work with and around are more likely to reply to my emails, collaborate on a project or share important information.
  2. Encouragement and positivity drive motivation.  I should be clear, that by no means am I suggesting that “tough conversations” are avoided or sugarcoated. Nor am I suggesting that under-performing employees should get a pass. What I am saying is that by setting a positive tone in a team heightens morale and in turn drives hard work.  I’ve seen first hand how one team can produce better results when they don’t feel a pressure or cloud of negativity hanging over their heads.
  3. “Relationships” last beyond a job. From references to new business referrals to media contacts, the relationships I’ve built throughout my career continuously prove to be beneficial.  By leaving a positive impression on those I’ve worked with, I’ve established myself as both a kind and effective person to work with and for.

The Benefits of Being a Benevelont Boss has many other great proof points on why being nice doesn’t mean finishing last. It’s a great further read if you’re still not a believer.