Tag Archives: Research In Organizational Behavior

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 Problems with Emotional Intelligence: It’s a Jungle [Book] Out There

Jungle-Book-by-Rudyard-Kipling-2Since the mid-1990s, the idea of emotional intelligence has been forced upon us as the quintessential trait for more effective leadership, enriched relationships, and generally happier lives. I don’t disagree with any of these findings and I remain a staunch supporter of growing your emotional intelligence. However, like anything, there are those who can take a positive feature and warp it to satisfy their own selfish agenda.

In 1894, English author Rudyard Kipling wrote about the perils of emotional intelligence in his classic, The Jungle Book, which you probably know it better as the 1967 Walt Disney Productions’ animated movie and (as of this weekend) the live action movie. The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, an abandoned “man cub” who is raised by wolves with the help of Baloo the jovial bear and Bagheera the protective black panther.

jungle book shere khanUnlike the movies, Kipling’s book provides additional details on Shere Khan, the villainous Bengal tiger fixated on killing Mowgli. He makes many attempts on Mowgli’s life beginning with the man cub’s early upbringing. In a maneuver that involves a high degree of emotional intelligence, Khan infiltrates Mowgli’s adopted wolf pack. He promises the younger wolves generous rewards in exchange for tricking the leader while on a hunt. This results in the leader being expelled with Khan left to dismantle the group.

Khan does not coerce the younger wolves to aid his nefarious plot—he has the ability to understand himself and others and then channel this emotional energy in the desired direction. Khan is able to prey upon the naivety and self-indulgence of the less experienced members of the tribe. If this sounds familiar, consider what recent research has discovered on emotional intelligence.

A study led by University of Cambridge professor Jochen Menges found that when a leader gave an emotional, inspiring speech, the audience was less likely to consider the message and remembered less of the content, yet conversely, they claimed to recall more of the speech. This persuasive impact is attributed to the ability to strategically express emotions in a way where, according to the researchers, followers “stop thinking critically and just emote.”

According to Martin Kilduff from University College London, those who can control their emotions are more adept at disguising their true feelings. They purposefully shape their sentiments to express feelings that portray a more favorable impression of themselves.

The strategic disguise of one’s own emotions and the manipulation of others’ emotions for strategic ends are behaviors evident not only on Shakespeare’s stage but also in the offices and corridors where power and influence are traded.—Martin Kilduff

Stéphane Côté, a University of Toronto psychologist, measured Machiavellian tendencies as it relates to emotional intelligence. He and his team found that employees with higher emotional intelligence were significantly more likely to engage in harmful behaviors that demeaned and embarrassed others for personal gain.

As these studies show, the more people sharpen their emotional skills, the better they become at manipulating others. This is not meant to undermine the value of being emotionally intelligent, but it does show that each of us must remain hypervigilant against the Shere Khans in our organizations who are able to stroke our ego through charisma or empathy. We cannot confuse compassion for affection, nor can we mistake competence for integrity.

Don’t let your workplace become a jungle. Build the culture on collaboration and team achievement so others don’t perceive value in being a lone contributor. Emphasize ethical decision making over “winning.” Then the bare necessities of life will come to you.