Good news for the nice

By Blair McPherson | 07 September 2020

According to Jose Mourinho nice guys and girls win nothing. Researchers from Berkeley University Business School would disagree. Whilst Mr Mourinho has a very impressive track record as a winner at the highest level,  as he is want to remind journalist and critics, he would probably be surprised to learn than this was not because, to use his words in a recent documentary, he is a ‘clever c***’.

The researchers found that even in very competitive business environments being nasty was no more likely to advance your career than being nice. It may be that the sports field is different to the board room but in councils we do like our sports metaphors, as illustrated by the emphasis on league tables and performance. And as in sport so in business there is a belief that nice guys and girls come second. 

Good news then for us nice people, our colleagues and those we manage. But if being neither nasty or nice makes a difference to career progression what does?  I suggest it is a combination of being very ambitious and very self-confident. If you’re ambitious you recognise the value those with influence place on commitment -  hence first into the office last to leave, volunteering your team for the leader’s pet project or responding to the chief executive’s requirement to make a 3 % budget saving by offering up 5% ! Ambitious senior managers are prepared to sacrifice their personal and family life for the cause. If the way to get the top job involves moving to the other end of the country the truly ambitious don’t hesitate, no matter the implications for their partner’s job or the disruption to the kids’ schooling.

Being prepared to go the extra mile, to cut short family holidays, to take work phone calls evenings, weekends and bank holidays and generally be a self-absorbed work-obsessed, absent parent is not enough, although it does put a lot of would-be directors and chief executives off. Those who seek the top posts must be supremely confident that they are destined for high office because there will be rejections and setbacks so the individual needs to be able to bounce back with their self-belief undented.

I worked with a young very ambitious manager who secured a senior acting-up post. This individual was confident that when the council recruited to the permanent post they would be appointed. Taking nothing for granted and knowing that sometimes members assume that there must be more experienced, better qualified external candidates, this individual went on a charm offensive to raise their profile with members, show their commitment, loyalty and affability. They were very disappointed when they weren’t offered the post. However neither was anyone else. It was re-advertised and the head hunters instructed to cast their net wider. The individual was undaunted. ‘That’s my post’ they told me and second time round it was.

So when it comes to climbing the corporate career ladder being nasty or nice won’t determine your advancement but to be successful you will need to be very ambitious and supremely self-confident. Which puts some very able and experienced people off applying.

Blair McPherson is a former director , author and blogger


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