Why Most CEOs are Nice

Chief executives may be short-sighted. They may lack charisma. They are generally nice.

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Although some people believe that any individual who has climbed to a chief executive position did so over the bodies of rivals, such behavior is the exception, not the rule. Executives may not always be competent. They may lack charisma. They may be short-sighted. But in most cases, they are nice.

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What? Aren’t these people supposed to be products of a ruthless culture that rewards illusory promises and backstabbing? Aren’t they insensitive clods who refer to “the little people” and who have no idea what life is like outside of the executive dining room and the country club?

That makes for a good screenplay but it is simply not the case in the real world. It should be no surprise that a leadership think tank once found that the chief reason some otherwise very talented people failed to get the top spot was their insensitivity to others. The strivers who overpromised and dropped people on their heads were eventually derailed. Their comeuppance may have occurred later than many would have wished but come it did. 

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This makes sense. Amiability goes a long way in most organizations and word quickly spreads when someone is rude, arrogant, and uncaring. A serious contender in the office political wars knows it is foolish to make unnecessary enemies. Secretaries, administrative assistants, first-line supervisors, and middle managers can have long memories as well as enormous influence with higher-ranking people who, in turn, can shape employment decisions. 

This doesn’t mean, of course, that all CEOs are charmers. Reptilian creatures occasionally slither to the top. They are, however, the exception, and anyone with an ounce of ambition should remember that. Being nice is not only the right thing to do--it is also in one’s self-interest.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.


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