I admit up front that my argument in this post may seem somewhat circuitous. So if you don’t want to read on, here is my conclusion from articles I sight herein: the best companies attract the best (e.g., most skilled, highly educated, and nicest) workers. Civil, polite and nice people are more likely to make more effective leaders. If skilled people are such a business advantage (and the best companies know they are), and if you can’t immediately attract the best and the brightest leaders, invest in and develop the talent you have – help them get better.
Recent research is uncovering that much of the income inequality that is happening in our current economy is due to “a gap in wages between companies, not within them.” And, “more productive, higher paying companies are hiring better workers.” (Corporate Inequality is the Defining Fact of Business Today, HBR, May 2015).
In the article Nicholas Bloom, a professor at Stanford’s business school, comments, “Back in the 1980s, college graduates and low-skilled people would be in every firm. Today, much like our neighborhoods, companies seem to be more segregated by education and skill.” Dr. Bloom goes on to say that this seems to be happening for soft skills as well, “Nice, fun, polite people are sorting into some firms,” and jerks (I can’t use the word he uses) are “sorting into others.”
From a macro-economic, and “health of our society” standpoint, this research is very worrisome. The data confirms yet another advantage of a more privileged background: better and higher paying jobs in the best companies. Thankfully, other research on the impact of what I consider to be “healthier”, more skillful leadership traits and the neuroplasticity of our brain confirms that we can change and learn new behaviors throughout our lives. Regardless of where we start, the family we come from, or where we went to school, we can get better. We can even learn to be nicer.
Studies by Christine Porath, Alexandra Gerbasi and Sebatian Schorch at the Grenoble École de Management, have shown that, “behavior involving politeness and regard for others in the workplace pays off.” At a biotechnology company, a study confirmed “those seen as civil were twice as likely to be viewed as leaders.” (“No Time to Be Nice at Work”, New York Times, June 19, 2015).
Morgan W. McCall Jr., and Michael Lombardo and others found from their research while at the Center for Creative Leadership, that the “no. 1 characteristic associated with an executive’s failure is an insensitive, abrasive or bullying style.” (“Is Your Boss Mean?” The New York Times, June 21, 2015)
So if successful companies hire more skillful and nicer employees, they must see a return on their investment. Higher skilled employees, and this includes healthier, more polite and caring leaders clearly have a big impact on the success of your enterprise. If you can’t immediately attract or afford to hire the “best” leaders and employees, develop the ones you have. And this will most likely need to include teaching them some kind of mindfulness, “self-care practices” (mean people are often mean to themselves as well as others), empathy and kindness.
And if you are a leader who loses control, gets angry or mistreats others, and are not always driving your own emotional bus, get help. You will probably make more money.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.