LESSON 12Know When to Be Nice

We’ve all been in a position where we feel we have to choose between being nice and being tough. You’re probably thinking, “I’m struggling to keep this business alive. Not everyone is pulling their weight. I’m going to have to fire people. And you expect me to be nice?!”

Please know that I spent 25 years trying to drag one of my companies into the black. Personally, I’d lost millions of dollars, and the frustration and resentment I felt in the face of the employees’ long line of failures were driving me to such distraction that, frankly, I was not all that nice. I was beginning to feel that I cared about many of our employees’ jobs more than they did. In retrospect, my irritation was probably, in part, a reflection of my own limitations as a manager.

Most entrepreneurs I know came up in a highly competitive business culture driven by a “nice guys finish last” philosophy. Successful companies, particularly private ones, are not democracies; founders and CEOs are the last of the dictators. The media, whether on reality TV shows like The Apprentice or on the business news networks, endlessly promote the view that you have to be tough and even ruthless to dominate your market. But almost all the best entrepreneurs I know have learned a very different lesson from their careers: to put a premium on what today’s management gurus call social skills. “I learned firsthand that if your employees are happy, it’s amazing how far they will go on your behalf,” ...

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