Don't Be So Nice

Edition: April 2003 - Vol 11 Number 04
Article#: 1524
Author: Repertoire

Excerpted from “Ask Annie: Would Being a Bigger S.O.B. Help Me Get That Promotion?” Fortune Magazine, March 4.

Dear Annie:

I was under consideration for a big promotion and the man who would have been my new boss was enthusiastic about me. But when he put my name forward to the global head, he was told to find someone else, since I would be “too nice” for the job. What should I do? Signed, Valerius.

Dear Valerius:

“Too nice?” This was certainly a new one to me. (What’s next? “Too honest?” No, that was last year.) It turns out, though, that your dilemma is a fairly common one. “Management, especially senior management, is a constant balancing act between being ‘nice’ – that is, compassionate, considerate and so-on – and being tough, as in making hard decisions and standing up for unpopular ideas,” says Nancy Friedberg, president of New York City-based executive coaching firm Career Leverage. “In a leadership job, which it sounds as if your promotion would have been, it’s more important to be respected than it is to be liked. By saying you’re ‘too nice,’ the global head may mean he thinks you’re too worried about whether people like you. He’s saying you’re perceived as a pushover.

“…You need to look back over your performance for the past couple of years and try to analyze your own behavior as others might have seen it. Was there a situation, like a contract negotiation, in which you weren’t assertive enough to come out on top? How much influence do you have among your peers? Can you persuade people to get behind your ideas? If you’ve done formal evaluations of subordinates, were you too kind to be frank with them about their shortcomings? Do you have trouble pushing back or saying no? Do you usually back down right away if someone disagrees with you? Any or all of these kinds of things may have given the global honcho the idea that you’re a milquetoast.”