• No products in the cart.
  • No products in the cart.
Back To Top
Image Alt

Guest Column: Successful Advisors and Executives Aren’t Nice!

Guest Column: Successful Advisors and Executives Aren’t Nice!

Successful Advisors and Executives Aren’t Nice!

By Todd Ordal

From the 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 nice!”

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.

There isn’t 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 ineffective.

There’s a 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.

My wife 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.

Let’s take 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. Kind leaders 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 not kind.

Is your organization nice or kind? Here are some diagnostic questions:

  1. Do people speak their minds or hold back because of what others will think?
  2. Do weak performers stay employed even though they add no value?
  3. 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?
  4. According to your performance reviews, is your company like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average?
  5. Have you ever reorganized a department to “work around” an ineffective person?
  6. 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 helps senior executives lead better, profit more or sleep soundly…without narcotics! He can be reached at 303-527-0417 or [email protected].

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 6

  • Pat Tith

    August 4, 2011

    I call this tough love!!

    • Todd Ordal

      August 4, 2011

      That works, Pat!

  • Kurt Buehlmaier

    August 6, 2011

    I love this! It reminds me of the story of the Korean pilots in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Sometimes being nice can lead to tragedy. Thanks for this post!

  • Graham Franklin

    August 8, 2011

    I am sorry Todd I have never read such nonsense in all my life. Your friends views are deeply flawed. Are we to assume that not being nice but appropriate in effective? let me correct you. You cannot assume that nice managers will not enforce the rules in case they upset someone. It is a very misleading and inaccurate assumption. managers need to be appropriate rather than as you state. Your wife clearly chooses to engage in conversations with salesmen or are so in control that she does not have this free choice? I would also assume that in your terms she would not be an effective manager of your household? A concerning guest column.

  • Chris Blackman

    August 9, 2011

    Todd: I have a friend who says that ‘nice’ means “Not Interested in Caring Enough (…to tell you the truth)”.

    Sometimes, it’s easier, less confrontational, less difficult to be ‘nice’ than it is to be truthful with someone. It tales a whole lot of extra effort to explain the truth to some people. It only takes five seconds to be nice, but it lacks integrity for a lifetime.

  • Josh Denton

    August 9, 2011

    Great post, Todd. There are few different comments and opinions concerning nice vs. kind by others. One point to support the main premises of your arguement – that kindness supports building and maintaining honest relationships between people – is from construal level theory. Construal level theory states time-distance between thoughts, people, cognitions, memories are most concrete nearest to now; further in the past or future the more abstract. The same occurs with relationships. The closer people are to each other, honest communication ensues (concrete). The counter is that when meeting a person for the first time, politeness and niceness are the standard (abstact). To move from nice to kind, one area of development is building relationships with people, which Alan writes extensively about. The second area of development is getting away from cheap management tricks (“if you build it, they will come”) to a transformational approach built on mutual respect and results.

    Look forward to yours and others thoughts.


Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.