It’s not what I’m most proud of, but I’ll admit it. I’m a nice guy. I’ve always kind of suspected it, certainly strived towards it, fell short of it frequently, but overall, that’s the general consensus. Surprisingly, some people I’ve known have seen it as a flaw.
Years ago, a fellow MBA student told me on the eve of our graduation, “You’re too nice to be in business.” Not exactly what I wanted to hear having just invested tens of thousands in an elite education. Later, a boss echoed this when he said, “Alan, you have a terminal case of nice-guy-itis.” To him, it was like a fatal illness. On both occasions, I considered proving them wrong by telling them to ____ off. But I didn’t, because it wouldn’t have been nice. So I guess they were right.
Nonetheless, I’ve had time to analyze this feedback during my 20 years in business. And frankly, if I’m going to err one way or another, I’d rather be known as nice.
Thankfully, I’m in good company with the crew at eGood and SWIRE. Case in point, this recent SWIRE blog post. David is as nice as can be and none the worse for it. He’s even attempting a world record for the most hugs in a day in order to raise $100,000 for charity. Come on. A world record for hugs in order to raise money for kids with cancer? That’s a level of niceness even a swell guy like me will never achieve.
Of course, the very idea of eGood hinges on making it easier for people to do good. That takes the concept of “too nice for the corporate world” and gives it a full-on swirly. And I mean that in the nicest way.
On a more serious note, we’ve seen the research that says today’s customers value purpose in their purchasing. They want socially conscious brands and are ready to rally around a shared vision. You might say they would rather do business with nice people.
In Search of Excellence author Tom Peters wrote a few years ago in The Financial Times, “Good business is… built on a bedrock of decency, thoughtfulness, empathetic listening and murmurs of appreciation.” He goes on to quote David Ogilvy: “We don’t take people to the elevator. We take them down to the street.”
Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine, more recently wrote on the Harvard Business Review blog, “In a world that is being reshaped by the relentless advance of technology, what stands out are acts of compassion and connection that remind us what it means to be human.”
Too nice to be in business? A terminal case of nice-guy-itis? I’m glad you thought so at the time. But when I look at the people I’m working with now, everything they’re striving for, and all they’re accomplishing, I think I have miles to go before I really live up to that.