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Nice Companies Finish First

November 25, 2013

Peter Shankman, the founder of Help a Reporter Out (HARO) and the CEO of The Geek Factory, has written a terrific book called Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management is Over and Collaboration is In. In it, he asserts that "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."

Nice Companies Finish First book cover Shankman cites a number of nice CEOs who run great businesses and make plenty of money for their shareholders and employees (e.g., Richard Branson at Virgin, Shantaul Narayen at Adobe and Ken Chenault at American Express) and he suggests that these nice guys have a competitive advantage over their nasty counterparts.

To prove his point, Shankman cites research by Wayne Hochwarter at the Florida State University College of Business who interviewed hundreds of workers on the bad treatment that they regularly receive from their managers.

They found that:

  • 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 said 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.

He offers nine warning signs that a "hopeless jerk" might be running your company or that the reader might be the culprit:

  • The Know-it-All Dictator (the top dog that doesn't leave room for disagreements)
  • Uninterested In Feedback (leaders who don't care what their employees think)
  • Takes Sides Unfairly or Openly (transparency is the key to success)
  • Wasteful or Out-of-Whack Use of Resources (budgets based on favoritism not performance)
  • The Desert Island Boss (leaders who don't care about their local communities)
  • Wants a Castle in the Sky (empire builders)
  • Talks Too Much, Does Too Little (talkers not doers)
  • Thinks Adversaries Work Better than Teams (the "what's in it for me?" approach)
  • Constant Cycle of Crisis (management based on putting out fires)

Shankman then explores in depth nine traits that make leaders shine with their teams:

  • Enlightened Self-Interest
  • The Accessibility Factor
  • Strategic Listening
  • Good Stewardship
  • 360 Loyalty
  • Glass-Half-Full Point of View
  • Customer Service-Centric
  • Merit-Based Competitor
  • Gives a Damn

Finally, Shankman offers a few tips from others for leaders who want to build their credibility and reputation. My favorite is from Bill Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management: "Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles."

Shankman's own tips include:

  • Exceed relatively low expectations. Work on building your reputation piece by piece.
  • Do "unexpected follow-up" daily. Keep in touch with people you've met professionally.
  • Find out what people are doing. Send people congratulatory notes when warranted.
  • Pay attention. Listen to what people are saying and make notes about key points.
  • Separate yourself from the pack. Be better than the pack.
  • Keep a mirror-image bag in your office. You always want to be the person most put together in a situation where no one expects to have to be put together.
  • For God's sake, if you do nothing else, just be nice! A smile goes a long ways.

Nice Companies Finish First is an upbeat, easy-to-digest and instructive book about the future of corporate leadership in America and elsewhere. Many CEOs have learned the lessons outlined in this book the hard way, but increasingly organizational leaders are learning the value of collaboration over control. This is especially true for those of us who manage Corporate Social Responsibility programs at companies – we typically control little, but influence much.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts with us by clicking here. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog with friends and colleagues.

P.S. Did you know that Walt Disney once said, "I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter"?


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