Category Archives: Likeability

Why the Attitude? The Business Case for Being Nice

I recently received a call from a frustrated CEO who had concerns about his COO. The COO was brash, antagonistic, and exhibiting a pervasively aggressive disposition. The culture was plummeting and his staff was on the verge of a coup. The CEO and I sat down with the COO to salvage and hopefully remedy the situation.

After I heard the COO’s frustrations, many of which had merit, I dug into why he chose the attack mode. He had excuses and the CEO had retorts, but both seemed to be missing the point. So I went to the heart of issue by asking, “And you couldn’t accomplish this by being nice?” Like many leaders, he equated “nice” with being “weak.” Being a staunch fan of the movie Road House, I could not disagree more.

Road House is one of the greatest films of all time. Starring Patrick Swayze, it’s the story of Dalton, a philosopher hired to clean up bars. This Zen Bouncer ends up at the Double Deuce where we needs to get rid of the sketchy clientele, upgrade the staff, and change the mindset of how to operate a saloon. When retraining the bouncers, Dalton bestows his threes rules.

One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.

Be nice? How can a bouncer enforce the rules with the lowlifes who reside in the Double Deuce and be nice? It’s actually a pretty easy, effective way to lead.

If somebody gets in your face and calls you a [bad name], I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the other [bouncers] will help you, and you’ll both be nice. I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.

Do you notice that Dalton does not instruct his bouncers to let patrons do whatever they want? Nor does he ease up on the high standards he sets for a safe, family-friendly tavern. No, being nice is about the manner in which things are done, not what you are actually trying to accomplish. This isn’t soft; this is supported by science.

A study by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that the most altruistic members of the team gain the highest status, are more frequently preferred as cooperative interaction partners, and receive greater rewards as their virtuous efforts increase.

A Research in Organizational Behavior study concluded that leaders who project warmth are more effective than those leaders who rely on force or competence—“warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.”

Research in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that when leaders display behaviors related to self-sacrificing, their employees feel more engaged, committed, and are more likely to go out of their way to support other members of the team.

comprehensive healthcare study found that a culture of kindness not only improves employee productivity but also improves client health outcomes and satisfaction.

All together, the research is clear that a leadership model of trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation can serve as a powerful basis for a company’s culture. Just be nice. Emulate the Zen Bouncer and say, “If somebody underperforms, I want you to be nice. Provide constructive feedback. Be nice. If he won’t take your feedback, be more stern. But be nice. If you can’t turn around his performance, one of the other leaders will help you, and you’ll both be nice.”

Veep’s Selina Meyer on Attaining Dominant Prestige

veepHave you ever asked yourself why you want to be a leader? There are easier (and more profitable) professions. So what motivated you down this career path? With some reflection, you may realize that you are a Veep.

Veep refers to the HBO series about Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her navigation through the political melee in Washington, D.C. While funny and seemingly outrageous, more than one Washington insider has cited how eerily accurate it portrays politicians and operatives.

Meyer and the rest of the characters are painted as either dominant-driven or desperate for adoration. Coincidentally, a new research study from Kellogg’s Jon Maner and Charleen Case examined these two leadership styles and how they are used in different kinds of organizations. The study shows a strong correlation between a desire for power and being motivated by both dominance and prestige, although one tends to be more overriding than the other.

Leaders leaning towards dominance rely on intimidation and coercion. They demand respect and strong-arm to ensure that others are following them. On the other hand, leaders motivated by prestige are more concerned with being liked. They attempt to earn respect and consider themselves to be a role model for the team.


If you have some preconceptions about which style is more effective, they each have pros and cons depending on the circumstances. According to the study, dominant-oriented leaders tend to make swift decisions and can successfully unite their team behind a single vision. But be warned, they are also willing to sacrifice the best interest of the group so as to remain in power.

I’m the Vice President of the United States…! These people should be begging me! That door should be half its height so that people can only approach me in my office on their <censored> knees!—Selina Meyer

Prestige-oriented leaders are skilled at fostering creativity; however, because their power is based on being liked, they have a tendency to make popular decisions over the “right” decision…or do they? The research shows that these leaders will block what they see as the best course of action when making a public decision that will be unpopular, yet if the decision is made without others knowing, these leaders will choose the best option for the group.

You bet it was. It was a huge pleasure to meet me.—Selina Meyer

So what kind of leader are you, a transparent bully or a duplicitous chum? Would it surprise you if I suggested you be both? According to Maner:

When you need all the people on your team to present a unified front and move quickly in a common direction, when you don’t have time to have people thinking outside the box, that situation really calls for a dominant leader. Conversely, if you’re trying to get your team to innovate or produce creative solutions, that calls for more of a prestige-oriented strategy.

Successful leaders possess the insight and emotional intelligence to read the situation, know how they are perceived, and understand their organization’s culture. After assessing, they can then determine whether to employ dominance or prestige. It may take another second of thought, but one size does not fit all. Even Selina Meyer knows that (even if she does not adhere to it).

Hillary Clinton: Three Leadership Lessons from the Democratic Presidential Candidate

hilary clintonAuthor’s Note: This article is not intended to be an endorsement of a candidate. The leadership tactics we will discuss are proven to be effective in persuading others and bolstering influence. How you choose to use these techniques is up to you.

Since today kicks off the beginning of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, it is a good time to discuss the leadership techniques utilized by the projected Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. When describing her methods, hard work, thorough understanding of the issues, and the desire to achieve a particular goal were my initial descriptors. Unfortunately, the only tips I could pull from this list were work harder, read more, and practice goal planning. These are all recommended, but after more thought, here are (another) three techniques we can learn from Clinton:

Fight Through Adversity

Whether it’s a result of her views, actions, or a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” Hillary Clinton has endured through almost thirty years of harsh, negative inquiry. If this sounds overstated, a Harvard University study showed that Clinton’s media coverage was more negative than that of any other candidate in 2015.

clinton media bias

Media Tenor, January 1-December 31, 2015. Tone figures based on positive and negative statements only. Neutral statements are excluded.

In 11 of the 12 months studied, Clinton’s “bad news” outpaced her “good news” by a wide margin—in the first half of 2015, negative statements outpaced the positive by three to one; the second half was three to two, negative over positive. This negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, contributing to the increase in her unfavorable poll ratings. And this was not based on conservative-leaning media bias. The study analyzed thousands of news statements by CBS, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

I don’t write this to defend Clinton or to disparage the media. My point is that it takes a tremendous amount of resilience to persevere through adversity… and she’s done it with an impressive track record of professional successes that will be topped off this week with the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Most of us will never be subjected to the virile attacks Clinton has experienced; this does not mean we can cower when confronted with hardship. A leader without resilience is a leader who is short-lived in their role. If you desire to do anything of substance, you will face setbacks. Resilience is how you recover. Here are a few ways you can enhance your ability to persevere:

  • Operate with a sense of purpose; sustain your key values and principles
  • Disregard sensationalism and hype; maintain perspective with logic and facts
  • Give yourself time to bounce back from the obstacle without wallowing in pity
  • Learn from your mistakes and move on
  • Remain focused on achieving the goal(s)

Don’t Minimize the Power of Predictability

Since reaching national notoriety in the 1990s, Clinton has presented herself in a consistent manner—a driven professional with high standards and even higher expectations. This ability to remain consistent may not sound exciting, but it is a foundational leadership attribute that followers actively seek.

Research in the Journal of Business Ethics found that self-consistency is a predecessor to authentic leadership and followers’ satisfaction with supervisor, organizational commitment, extra-effort, and team effectiveness. Another study in the journal Human Relations found that consistency results in a significant positive interaction with mission, adaptability, and involvement in predicting market-to-book ratios, sales growth, and overall performance. Google echoed these findings after conducting a widespread study of their hiring practices to determine what makes a successful leader.

When [Google] crunched the numbers, what they found out was remarkable for its overlooked common sense. Leaders must be predictable and consistent, because then employees grasp that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. In other words, when managers are predictable, they remove a roadblock from employees’ path—themselves. On the flip side, if your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.— Walter Chen, CEO of iDoneThis

If your team can predict what you are going to do, they won’t waste energy trying to forecast your mood, prophesize your priorities, or change course with every erratic decision. They are freed up to do their job.

Express Your “Humanness”

When people describe Clinton, they tend to discuss her in professional terms—industrious, multitask-oriented, organized, goal-driven. While these seem like the qualities you would desire in a President (or any other leader), there is something that has not connected with many in the public arena.

David Brooks, a political commentator who leans sharply on the conservative side of the bipartisan spectrum, recently wrote,

Agree with her or not, she’s dedicated herself to public service. From advocate for children to senator, she has pursued her vocation tirelessly. It’s not the “what” that explains her unpopularity, it’s the “how” — the manner in which she has done it.

This “how” is the need to exhibit a multifaceted, well-rounded version of one’s self. Poll after poll shows that people do not feel like they know Clinton’s non-political side. They know she’s a mother and grandmother, but they see her more as a career-minded workaholic.

For whatever reason, people want to know what their leaders do for fun. A 2004 poll found that voters favored George W. Bush over John Kerry because they “would rather have a beer with Bush than Kerry.” Bill Clinton surged in the polls when he played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. And Barak Obama always garners positive press when he releases his annual NCAA Basketball Championship bracket.

According to research by psychologists Maurice Schweitzer and Adam Galinsky, leaders need to strike a balance between warmth and competence. They illustrate this theory with an accomplished psychiatrist who would employ one of three tactics when he first met a new patient: drop a pencil, tell a bad joke, or spill his coffee. His intent was to show his fallibility, i.e. warmth. Combined with his display of competence, including his office of diplomas, published books, and awards, the doctor was perceived as being more trustworthy and more proficient.

Likability counts, so if you want to be a more effective leader, show your team who are when you’re off the clock. Don’t downplay how hard you work, but throw in a few personal details. Talk about your weekend. Discuss your kids. Tell self-deprecating stories. Basically, display your vulnerability so you can be more relatable.

Hillary Clinton has run a solid campaign to reach this next stage in her career. Many factors have led to this moment, but her resilience and consistency have been key ingredients in her candidacy. As I wrote in my preceding article on Donald Trump’s leadership lessons, if you support her, these techniques are working. If you don’t, sharpen your skills to help defeat her. Either way, let’s hope this election cycle can become more competence and issue-based, and move away from the less substantive bouts that have become all too commonplace. It may not be as exciting, but is excitement really your measure of a world leader?

Who is the Leader in Peanuts?

Peanuts_GangWhen you think of the Peanuts’ gang, who is the leader? If your initial answer is Charlie Brown, I respectfully disagree. Charlie may be at the center of almost all the stories, but he is constantly stepped on, disrespected, and ignored. He lacks confidence and cannot even muster a simple “hello” to the red-haired girl he’s been infatuated with since 1961.

Others may suggest that the leader of Charles Schulz’s classic comic strip is Snoopy (a loner living in a dreamworld as World War I Flying Ace), Linus (who cannot influence anyone to abandon trick-or-treating to stare at a pumpkin patch), or Peppermint Patty (who’s intellectual laziness results in self-satisfaction with the school certificate placing her in the “D-Minus Hall of Fame”). Instead of focusing on the “nicer” characters, I propose that the true leader of Peanuts is Lucy.

Lucy comes from that part of me that’s capable of saying mean and sarcastic things, which is not a good trait to have, so Lucy gives me a good outlet. — Charles M. Schulz

peanuts_lucyIf your initial thoughts are that Lucy is bossy, overconfident, and semi-obnoxious, then we’re on the same page. According to multiple studies, these behaviors not only make a person appear more powerful, but can actually make them more powerful, as well. Research has found that when someone acts as if they are the most capable person in the room, they significantly increase their chances of ending up in charge.

Basically, agreeableness is seen as a weakness. Just look at Charlie Brown. On a regular basis Lucy repeats her infamous stunt where she pulls the football away from him just as he is about to kick it. Charlie is always convinced he can do it and is disappointed every time. Based on this an many other Peanuts stories, Adam Grant, Wharton professor and best-selling author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, would classify Charlie as a “giver” and Lucy as a “taker.” Givers can be effective leaders but they run the risk of being exploited by takers.

We believe we want [leaders] who are modest, authentic, and all the things we rate positively, but we find it’s all the things we rate negatively [like arrogance and egotism] that are the best predictors of higher salaries or getting chosen for a leadership position. — Jeffrey Pfeffer, a business professor at Stanford

If you follow this line of reasoning, such overt displays of obnoxious behavior can be seen as confidence. Those who exhibit their craving for power are more disinhibited and are often the individuals who have the guts to say what others are thinking. By saying it first, they establish their dominance amongst peers and upper management.

This same unconstrained approach is what one study calls “useful narcissism.” Narcissistic CEOs, the study found, tend to be gamblers. They are more likely to make high-profile decisions. Some decisions work out, others don’t, but “to the extent that innovation and risk taking are in short supply in the corporate world, narcissists are the ones who are going to step up to the plate.”

What I’ve become convinced of is that nice guys and gals really do finish last. — Adam Grant, Wharton professor and best-selling author

Am I suggesting you start acting like a narcissistic? Let’s just say that I’m not telling you to avoid it IF, and only if, you can contain it to the following circumstances that Jerry Useem outlined in a recent paper:

  1. If your job involves a series of onetime encounters in which reputational backlash has minimal effect.
  2. After a group has formed but its hierarchy has not.
  3. When “the group’s survival is in question, speed is essential, and a paralyzing existential doubt is in the air.”

If being a jerk still sounds like your path towards the upper echelon of management, be warned that it will fail if there are no benefits to the team. In a study by social psychologist Gerben van Kleef, an individual was observed stealing coffee from someone’s desk. If that coffee was just for him, his influence among others shrunk. If, however, he stole the coffee for himself and a co-worker, his influence spiked.

A football moving, puppy punching, insult riddling, Lucy-esque leader may wield more power than a politer version of yourself for the short-term, but a reputation based on conceit is a weak foundation. One slip-up and you will have a company full of people ready to cheer for your demise. Instead, know your audience. Be aware of situations where bravado is appropriate and can be useful. And reserve the norm-violating version of yourself for special occasion.

Weekender: Anna Kendrick’s Inspiring Life Motto

Anna KendrickWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a nibble of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a nibble? Because it’s the weekend!

When we achieve a grand accomplishment, it’s easy for that burst of success to morph into something that is less than graceful. Who can blame you? The win didn’t happen by accident; you achieved it through hard work, sacrifice, and sheer willpower. But at what point does your ego lose touch with reality?

In a recent interview with Elle magazine, actress Anna Kendrick was asked for her motto, her mantra that guides her decisions. What she said is beneficial advice for anyone who is trying to achieve anything.

I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t make me sound like a pretentious f–kface. Maybe that should be my motto: Don’t be a pretentious f–kface.

Its not going to end up in a Presidential speech, but Anna’s quote is eloquent in its simplicity. Too often, that justifiable feeling of “I deserve this win” mutates into the less attractive “The world has recognized my greatness.”

Before you are consumed by your ego (or vice versa), continue to remind yourself that attempting to appear more impressive then you factually are is not a path to success. If anything, it will slow down your progress and repel those who might otherwise be allies. Embrace your well-earned credit, maintain your humility, and keeping repeating, “Don’t be a pretentious f–kface.”