Nice Guys vs. Intimidators in Leadership

The February Harvard Business Review contains a few pieces worthy of mention. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the case study (free to everyone) on how to manage "nice guys" and then the article (subscribers only) on how intimidators – sometimes derided as abrasive and insensitive – can further an organization better than the humble, quiet style.

Nice-guy managers – or stereotypically "nice guys" in general – share a number of common characteristics. (Full disclosure – I am not a stereotypically "nice guy." While I like to think that I’m nice and fun, whatever that means, I have a harder shell than the kind described in this case study.) Nice guy managers are sometimes timid, afraid to rock the boat, and won’t hold people accountable. On the other hand, they can often develop deep relationships with people which is perhaps the most important skill one can cultivate. Eric Schmidt’s commentary on the case study is interesting. He practices "leadership therapy":

When a manager comes into my office and wants to talk about a problem or feels like complaining, I pull out a sheet of paper and a pen. While he talks, I listen and take notes about what he’s saying. After he’s finished, I look at my notes and say, “Let me make sure I understand you,” and then I summarize what I’ve heard in a few sentences. I’ve found that when people see I’ve given them my full attention and have proven it by repeating what they’ve said, they feel very supported—to the point where they are ready to accept my judgment, even if it overrides their personal interests.

And hey – did you know there’s a whole consulting company around managing nice guys?

The article on Great Intimidators is useful, I guess, in providing some counterweight to all the ra-ra over Emotional Intelligence, but it’s not entirely persuasive. I agree that "Political Intelligence" is key, and guys like Harvey Weinstein and Steve Jobs have been successful, but I would never subscribe to advice like "Be Angry" or "Keep them Guessing." Knowing someone’s vulnerabilities, insecurities, sources of pride, confidents, etc. are all important tools in trying to advance a greater mission. These should be part of a leader’s toolkit, but buried underneath other principles like transparency, empathy, and the like.

1 comment on “Nice Guys vs. Intimidators in Leadership
  • It is better to be feared then loved. But it is better to be both loved and feared. (Niccolo Machiavelli)

    The goal should be to be intimidating enough that people won’t roadblock your decisions if they contradict theirs, but nice enough that people are inspired to work hard for you and engage in a deep bond with you and other employees therefore making everyone more happy and productive… including yourself (because who likes playing the asshole all day?).

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