Tag Archives: Cooperation

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.”

The Business Case for Team-Based Incentives with Atlanta Falcon’s Owner Arthur Blank

You getting Super Bowl fever? As a perpetual supporter of the underdog (unless my Steelers are playing), I’ve been reading about Atlanta Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank. Even if you aren’t into football, you will appreciate that before purchasing the Falcons in 2002, Blank was co-founder of The Home Depot.

It may seem commonplace today, but when it was first introduced The Home Depot revolutionized the home improvement business with its one-stop shopping, warehouse concept. Blank then spent 19 years as its president before becoming CEO and co-chairman.

In learning about Blank, an interview last week exhibits one particularly admirable aspect of his leadership philosophy that gives strong hints as to why he has been as successful as he is. After the Falcons won their spot in the Super Bowl, Blank announced that he is flying all 500 Falcon employees to Houston for the game. When asked, “How big is that bill?” he responded:

It’s not about money. It’s about these associates, who were the ones that support our players, our coaches and our franchise… We are a family of businesses that share a set of values and we want to be able to celebrate this with everybody. All the Falcons associates are going because they’re all a part of what it takes to produce a winning team on the field.

This is motivating to the staff on two fronts. Monetarily, they are each receiving a one-in-a-lifetime experience that is far beyond most people’s budgets—between the flight, a ticket to the game (pricing starts at $3,500 per seat), hotel, and food it could easily cost $8,000 per employee.

More impactful, however, is the message of shared success that Blank is conveying. If the team does well, we all do well. These team-based incentives reinforce a company culture of collaboration and cooperation. As a result, team members are more likely to prioritize the shared goals and values of the organization over their personal agendas.

Not convinced? A 2010 study found that employees receiving team-based incentives are more willing to put extra effort into their tasks because they don’t want to let their teammates down. Armstrong and Ryden’s research found that companies with long-term, team-based incentive pay resulted in significantly lower than average employee turnover. And another study found productivity increases of 9-17% relative to companies with individual incentives.

If team-based incentives sound costly (and you aren’t able to send your team to the Super Bowl), don’t worry. Research shows that team-incentive schemes are 26-29% more cost effective than individual incentives. I’m no economists, but spending less and getting more for your money sounds like a competitive advantage.

As leaders, we need to make shared success a part of our culture. Impart the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” Make it a regular part of your communication and back it up with tangible incentives and rewards. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll be on your way to your national championship.

Supergirl on Being Overshadowed by a Super-Leader

superman-supergirlOne of my favorite new shows last year was Supergirl. You may feel that I’m partial to superhero-based shows (click here to learn more), but this really is a great story.

Remember when Superman escaped from this home planet just before it blew up? Well imagine that his older cousin, Kara, was sent in a separate spaceship to protect him on their new planet, Earth. Unfortunately, Kara’s rocket was diverted and she arrived 24 years later to find that her cousin is grown up and has become the world’s most renowned superhero.

The show picks up with Kara acclimating to her newfound superhero identity. In itself, this is an interesting story. What’s unique, however, is how Kara is overshadowed by her already-established cousin.

[We] all live in someone’s shadow in our lives, and we’re all second best to someone in our lives. What’s amazing on this show is she gets to be at the forefront.—Ali Adler, Supergirl executive producer

The dynamics between a leader and super-leader can lead to feels of animosity, frustration, and resentment– we are great, until he shows up. There’s no denying that your leadership abilities are dwarfed by the super-leader, and worse, you can’t help but acknowledge that he/she really is super. This then leads to further feels of animosity, frustration, and resentment.

When insecurity strikes, it can have devastating affects on your team. For instance, new research shows that these leaders often preclude co-workers from forming cooperative relationships. They tend to separate the highly skilled individuals, thereby blocking interactions that are essential to nurturing group success. These vulnerable leaders continue this behavior even after being instructed on the ways collaboration enhances team performance.

People [on the show] are in awe of Superman, just in the same way that the audience is. So part of what Kara is dealing with is he walks into a room and everybody gets real quiet and stares, and she’s like, ‘Oh God, oh brother. All right, it’s my cousin. Get over it.’—Andrew Kreisberg, Supergirl executive producer

While it may not seem logical to isolate your A-players, in the midst of insecurity, otherwise rational leaders frequently try to bolster their position by abating cohesion. If people don’t have a relationship, they cannot discuss your shortcomings in relation to the super-leader, nor can they plot against you.

Supergirl understands why the world loves Superman. In response, she seeks ways to learn from him. Instead of being worried about comparisons, she embraces opportunities to work together so, with time, she can be seen an equal, a peer who works with him, not under him. Utilize your relationship with the super-leaders in your life. They may be the mentor you’ve always needed.