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Nice Companies Finish First
Why Cutthroat Management is Over â" and Collaboration is In
By Peter Shankman, Karen Kelly
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2013 Peter Shankman
All rights reserved.
WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT BEING A NICE GUY?
"Be the change you want to see."
Not too long ago I was standing in line at the airport waiting to check in. The whole experience of flying has been severely downgraded over the last 20 years, from glamorous and exciting to dismal and depressing, not to mention inconvenient and uncomfortable. So I wasn't really all that surprised to see the person in front of me, a normal-looking guy in a suit, throw a tantrum that would put an overly tired, sugar-infused three-year-old to shame. I know you've seen this before: Tantrum Guy wasn't getting his way. Didn't the airline rep know who he was? He should get the seat he wanted. Why wasn't he getting bumped up to business class? Everyone at the airline was a jerk. He was important. He had to get to a VIP meeting. The ticketing agent remained stoic during his unconstrained tirade.
The most powerful leaders are almost always the role models for the change they seek.
We've all been witness to this kind of embarrassment at one time or another. I just shook my head, rolled my eyes, and briefly made eye contact with the agent. None of my fellow passenger's perceived problems was the fault of the agent, who was, of course, just doing her job amidst her own problems, like bills to pay, an annoying supervisor, or a kid on the verge of becoming a teenager. Still, Tantrum Guy didn't give a thought to any of this. To him, the agent had ceased to be human and instead became the vessel into which he poured all of his petty aggravations and frustrations. In reality, the agent continued to be patient and polite, and then she dispatched him as quickly as possible, all while he continued to whine and complain loudly.
"Well. ... That sucked." I smiled as I got up to her. "I give you a lot of credit for letting him leave with his teeth." I grinned. "I hope your day gets better from here."
"Thank you, Mr. Shankman," she said as she smiled back. "How can I help you today?"
"Oh, I just need to check in, and with any luck, you won't have to deal with any more idiots of that caliber today."
And with that I was upgraded to first class.
Lesson number one: it pays to be a nice guy. Second: always stand behind a pompous ass whenever possible. Your niceness will be thrown into dramatic high relief.
There's no way to institutionalize or "corporatize" niceness — it comes from the top person and permeates a place.
Let me tell you another story. I have a colleague who worked for a big corporation more than 20 years ago. That's a lifetime in working terms. She had a boss who could be very cutting — it was a management style that defined her, in fact. She pitted the members of her team against each other so that they often worked at cross-purposes. That was bad enough, but the offhand insults she threw at them were perhaps the most harmful of all. Words sting. Especially when they come from a supervisor.
At any rate, one day my colleague was asked to re-do a report done by a person in another department. She took on the challenge and did her best. "I felt very proud of that report," she said. "But when I showed it to my boss, instead of sensing my pride and thanking me at least for the effort, she said, 'You're not that good at this,'" referring to the analysis my friend had put into the report. "I carried those words with me for 20-plus years," my friend told me. "They were always in the back of my mind, even though I had gone way beyond that job." In fact, today she is a very successful consultant whose insightful analysis of markets is in huge demand.
"One day I was minding my business, and my old boss wanted to friend me on Facebook," she said. "I thought, okay, I'm curious. But I couldn't help but be reminded of the way she had treated me — and my colleagues. I posted the revelation of how awful it had been on my page, without mentioning her name. Even though she recognized herself and apologized, it seemed very hollow to me. What was more interesting was the many responses I got from Facebook friends — how it resonated. So many of us have been hurt by bosses, people who we want desperately to trust." This isn't an unusual story — carrying around the toxic spew of a bad boss affects too many people. The difference is that nowadays we have the chance to announce it to the world.
These incidents got me thinking. I'm a serial entrepreneur, a CEO, and an avid student of brands and marketing, so I tend to look at life from a business perspective. It occurred to me that in business, one of the most demonized populations around (with good reason), nice people, actually can and do finish first despite the conventional wisdom that says you have to be a cold, uncaring bastard to succeed in the corner office. In other words, more and more, nice guys do win. That's why I always take the first meeting and try to have five minutes for someone. You never know where that first meeting will lead, and you never know what can be accomplished in those five minutes. Understand — this doesn't mean I get taken advantage of. I always tell people (with a smile): "Happy to answer a question you might have, but don't ask me to write your marketing plan for you." There's a big difference between being nice and being taken advantage of. Good leaders know this and work accordingly.
If you look under the hood of successful companies, you'll find that they are made up of people working together in an atmosphere that is conducive to civility and good cheer. There's no way to institutionalize or "corporatize" niceness — your HR department is never going to come up with a management structure that magically creates a collegial atmosphere. It has to come from the top, and from there it will filter down through managers, supervisors, staffers, and so on (the same can be true of a negative atmosphere).
I'm not just talking about making your business the top in its sector, exceeding sales expectations, or making boatloads of money. First of all, nice CEOs can (and do) make great business and plenty of dough (Richard Branson at Virgin, Shantaul Narayen at Adobe, and Kenneth Chenault at American Express, to name a few). Nice guys have a constant competitive advantage over their nasty counterparts, as illustrated by my airport story. Versions of that same scenario play out every single day, and not just in terms of the CEO who yells at his assistant, but also with the CEO who refuses to answer shareholder questions, who cheats employees out of bonuses, or who treats stakeholders and the community like dirt.
There's a growing body of research indicating that bad bosses hamper productivity, which results in smaller profits and lost business. University of Florida researchers found that people who work for abusive bosses are more likely to arrive late, do less work, and take more sick days even though they may be physically fine. Wayne Hochwarter, an associate professor of management at the Florida State University College of Business, and his colleagues interviewed more than 700 people from a variety of industries about the treatment they received from their managers. The results were dismal:
31 percent reported that their supervisor gave them the "silent treatment" during the year.
37 percent said that their supervisor failed to give credit when due.
39 percent noted that their supervisor didn't keep promises.
27 percent told the researchers that they had discovered that their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.
24 percent reported that their supervisor invaded their privacy.
23 percent indicated that their supervisor blamed others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment.
According to the researchers, this kind of employee–manager abusive relationship resulted in a workforce that "experienced more exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depressed mood and mistrust." These workers were also less likely to take on additional tasks, such as working longer or on weekends, and were generally less satisfied with their jobs. Also, employees were more likely to leave if they were involved in an abusive relationship than if they were dissatisfied with their pay — proving the old maxim that people quit bosses, not companies.
Ultimately, strong leadership is the most important competitive advantage companies have — it comes first, before technology, finance, operations, and everything else. "Nice" CEOs and managers are the best leaders: run better companies, attract innovative and more loyal employees, get into legal and regulatory trouble far less frequently (if ever), have better relationships, get more done, and are even healthier than the bad guys. And I can prove it.
In this book, I identify nine "nice" characteristics. I talked to dozens of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other leaders who embody these traits and practice them actively to very profitable effect. My hope is that I can encourage a whole new generation of CEOs, managers, and entrepreneurs to embrace their inner nice guy (or gal) and make it the hallmark of their business life. Who knows? Maybe a few Tantrum Guys will even change their attitudes.
Read on. Let's learn about these traits — Do you identify with any of them, either positive or negative? Do you see yourself as a "good" CEO or a "bad" CEO? More important, how do your employees see you?
One last story: I was sitting in a meeting with a CEO a few years ago when an administrative assistant walked in, caught her foot on a piece of rug that had curled up, and went down like a lead balloon, taking with her about 200 collated but not stapled pages. The CEO, in his thousand-dollar suit, jumped up and sat on the floor with the admin, picking up and re-collating papers for the next ten minutes. We all joined in as well. End result? No harm, no foul, and no injury to anyone's pride. That CEO had his company acquired for about $600 million last year.
Not bad for a guy sitting on the floor collating papers.CHAPTER 2
THE NINE WARNING SIGNS OF A HOPELESS JERK
"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."
— Oscar Wilde
Are you reading this book because your nasty side gets the better of you some of the time or maybe all of the time? Or is it because you want to make sure the leadership of your company is in the best shape to take it into the next decade? Or is it because there could be something wrong at the top and you can help fix it — or find another company that better suits your needs? All good reasons for coming along on this ride (and a fun ride it will be). Welcome to the fray.
Before we get into the positive traits that make leaders shine, let's spend a little time on the traits that make for bad leaders, the bastards that drive employees crazy, the ones who take too many unacceptable risks that are bad for shareholders or who behave in ways that are simply bad for the image of the business. Here are the warning signs that a hopeless jerk could be running your company — or, if you're willing to take a good look at yourself, the warning signs that you may be the jerk (or that you are perhaps heading in that direction). Think of the following as a diagnostic checklist.
1. Know-It-All Dictator: The top dog doesn't leave room for disagreements out of a sense of personal insecurity, arrogance, or both. The loyalty of the few cronies he or she has is built on fear, and so isn't authentic friendship (hey, it also means those cronies could stage a coup at some point and throw him or her out). This often results in a dulled level of commitment and enthusiasm on the part of other employees and partners who may stop telling the truth or even start lying just to avoid the boss's wrath. Backbiting among the executives and managers can become common and public. This makes for a highly stressful workplace and results in an increased rate of no-shows, as well as an accelerated turnover rate.
2. Uninterested in Feedback: Feedback, often called "360 Feedback," allows employees to give and receive confidential, anonymous feedback on a wide range of workplace issues both to and from the people who work around them, including supervisors, peers, and direct reports. Leaders who don't care what their staff thinks of managers and of the leadership itself aren't interested in solving personnel problems or, for that matter, in enhancing relationships that are working. You don't have to hire expensive outside consultants to run a feedback program — but the best leaders usually have some system in place that measures and codifies how they're perceived in terms of management weaknesses and strengths.
3. Takes Sides Unfairly and Openly: Don't you love it when the boss lets some people go home early while others (you, maybe) are stuck behind to clean up the mess? How about those whispery, gossipy sessions you see him or her having with a colleague behind a barely closed door? I'm sure we've all watched those before with a "WTF" look on our faces. Or, worse, you see that stock options, bonuses, and perks are unfairly linked to completely subjective performance reviews. "If you can see performance is rewarded and it's transparent and everyone gets a chance to earn that too, then preferential treatment is fine. If special treatment is not transparent and not clear, you are creating a very bad political situation," says Robert Sher, head of CEO to CEO, an executive consulting firm.
4. Wasteful or Out-of-Whack Use of Resources: Leaders who allocate budgets to business units or departments based on favoritism and power centers rather than actual business needs, innovation, or performance are wasting talent, plain and simple. How long do you think it will take for that to bite you back?
5. The Desert Island Boss: A leader with nonexistent stewardship doesn't care about local community, doesn't hire local workers, and doesn't participate in local community outreach. Moreover, he or she engages in products or services that don't contribute positively to the environment or the community either locally or globally.
6. Wants a Castle in the Sky: Empire builders believe that the more people they manage and the bigger the budget, the greater the chance they'll get promoted. This management style often results in ugly turf wars and can destroy productivity, innovation, and workplace harmony. It can also lead to bloated management, with too many layers within and between departments. Nothing gets done because people are too busy figuring out protocol and checking off boxes on lists. Good luck trying to beat the competitor in that castle. They'll be coming in through the windows.
7. Talks Too Much, Does Too Little: You can't just talk about great ideas; you have to implement them, too. When you're all talk and no action, rank-and-file employees become disillusioned. They start blogs or online businesses selling flea market scores, or they write screenplays on company time because you're too busy listening to yourself pontificate. Your managers waste budgets and time on report after useless report. In short, teams become fragmented, and people lose interest. "Don't leave someone in place who can't deliver," says Sher.
8. Thinks Adversaries Work Better than Teams: Bosses who foster the idea that every person is in it for himself or herself interfere with a sense of camaraderie or esprit de corps. Telltale signs are argumentative and heated meetings where everyone is either sending barbs across the table or checking their Droids. The key criterion for decision making is What's in it for me? After a while, the answer for many workers becomes all too apparent: nothing.
9. Constant Cycle of Crisis: You know, it may be true that you should never waste a good crisis, but it's also true that creating and maintaining a crisis mentality is a recipe for burnout. When your people spend most of their time putting out fires, eventually there's nothing left to save. Crises may feel exciting, but they are a brain and energy drain.
The first step in fixing a problem is admitting there is one. How much of your company (or yes, even yourself) do you see in the above examples? Let's get busy removing these warning signs of a hopeless jerk from the earth. Keep reading.
Excerpted from Nice Companies Finish First by Peter Shankman, Karen Kelly. Copyright © 2013 Peter Shankman. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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