Personal Branding

Why Nice Guys Finish Last in their Careers

It’s sad, but true—GOOD PEOPLE aren’t always GOOD PERFORMERS. This is the hardest leadership lesson I’ve every learned.

I wish you could judge someone’s PERFORMANCE by their PERSONALITY, but you can’t. Oftentimes, niceness is overcompensation for people’s inability in the areas you need them the most. We’ve been trained since kindergarten to be nice and in school being nice was a good thing. Remember when you got report cards in elementary school and they had an academic grade and a citizenship grade. The mean kids got bad citizenship grades which usually meant bad academic grades because the teacher didn’t like them. It is rare to find a student with bad citizenship grades and great academic grades, but you find tons of cases of good citizenship grades and bad academic grades (see the report card above).

That’s why in the real world “nice guys finish last” in their careers. Today, a lot of GOOD PEOPLE are unemployed. The reason is that PERSONALITY can only get you so far. In many cases, PERSONALITY is what carries people through the interview process because most people believe the myth that GOOD PEOPLE are GREAT PERFORMERS. As a result, GOOD PEOPLE get in the door while some GREAT PERFORMERS get the door slammed in their face. PERSONALITY alone can get someone through the first few months of new employment, but it’s not until it’s time to PERFORM and deliver that cards get put on the table. I’ve learned that PERFORMANCE trumps PERSONALITY.

On the flip side, there are a lot of GOOD PERFORMERS who do bad things—I could make a long list of top athletes to prove it, but in an effort to be non-judgmental I won’t. But if you’re a nice person and you know you’re hiding behind a cloak of niceness, your RESULTS have to eventually match the quality of your RELATIONSHIPS. And if you’re a great performer, your RELATIONSHIPS have to eventually match the quality of your RESULTS.

Now I’m not saying be MEAN, but I am saying that you have to be MEANINGFUL to the organization’s bottom line and your team members. In order to advance your career, you have to have great RESULTS and RELATIONSHIPS. Leaders should always hire for PERFORMANCE first and PERSONALITY second. Though business ethics is important, hiring is not a question of morality unless you’re HR manager for the Vatican and even they don’t do a great job.

The hardest thing to do is fire a GOOD PERSON—a family man with 3 kids who volunteers and goes to church every Sunday—because it feels morally wrong whereas GOOD PERFORMERS rarely get fired. Companies are created to make PROFIT, not PROPHETS, so unless niceness is a part of a company’s business model (i.e. customer service, hospitality, etc), don’t expect niceness to be your job security.


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