How to be nice… when you’re the boss

Linda and Robin (authors of the excellent book The Power of Nice) just blogged about niceness in managers, and their post is one of those bad-news-good-news deals. First the bad news. They write that:

Some scientific studies suggest that being in a position of authority has a unique effect on the human brain, that can cause people to become less sympathetic to the emotions and concerns of others—and as history has shown us, this can have a devastating effect on a business’ bottom line.

I agree completely. There are two unfortunate factors working against niceness in management:

1: Many organizations don’t see niceness as a success factor in managers.
When they promote people to management positions, they may pick people who are professional, experienced, assertive, etc. Studies also show, that they tend to pick people who are taller than average and have good hair. Seriously.

In fact, being nice can actually hinder your career prospects. Just think of the old saw that “Nice guys finish last.”

2: Being given authority can actually make a person less nice.
Bob Sutton wrote about this in The No Asshole Rule:

One of the simplest and yet most fascinating experiments to test the thesis is the “cookie crumbles” experiment. Researchers placed college students in groups of three and gave them an artificial assignment — collaboration on a short policy paper about a social issue. They then randomly assigned one of the students to evaluate the other two for points that would affect their ability to win a cash bonus. Having set up this artificial power hierarchy, researchers then casually brought to working trios plates containing five cookies.

They found that not only did the disinhibited “powerful” students eat more than their share of the cookies, they were more likely to chew with their mouths open and to scatter crumbs over the table.

Fortunately, there’s good news too in Linda’s and Robin’s post.

In order for NICE guys who made it to the top to avoid falling victim to the power paradox, all they need to do is flex their NICE muscles, daily.

They go on to give some specific actions that managers can take to stay nice. Go read their post, it’s excellent.

And of course I hardly have to add that nice managers are essential to happiness at work. They’re much more likely to be happy themselves, much more likely to have happy employees and hence are much more successful.

Your take

Is niceness a trait you want to see in your boss? Who’s the nicest boss you’ve ever had? What did he or she do that worked? What did that do to you and your colleagues? Please write a comment, I’d love to know your take.

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5 thoughts on “How to be nice… when you’re the boss”

  1. My subject!! :)

    Is niceness a trait you want to see in your boss?
    Definitely. But it’s not the only one. It needs to be combined with authenticity, the ability to make decisions and reliability. A boss who is only nice but doesn’t “lead” or support the team in getting anything done, is not a “nice boss” at the end of the day…


  2. What I look for in a boss is someone who is good at what he does and knows how to handle his people. Niceness is a plus to keep your people. I think these traits should go hand in hand. I wouldn’t want a boss who’s nice, but incompetent. I don’t think he can inspire his subordinates with just his niceness. :)

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