Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not THAT nice

I do a (roughly) monthly book club through The Miami Herald. (If you're interested, click here for info.) This was the most recent selection and here's my review of the book (oh, and I was the one who was "sitting in an empty office working on an 'important' project while everyone else is at the company's annual holiday party," mentioned below.).

Nice guys don't have to finish last
Unassertive and compliant people are usually appreciated but rarely promoted, according to this book, which attempts to remedy the situation.

Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office: Eight Strategies for Winning in Business Without Being a JERK. Russ Edelman, Tim Hiltabiddle and Charles G. Manz. Portfolio. 288 pages.

After this book was announced as a selection for The Business Monday Book club, I received this e-mail from a reader:

Dear Mr. Pachter,

If you could be so kind as to e-mail me the name of the book you covered around two weeks ago, I would really appreciate it. It was about nice guys not having to finish last in business. I wanted to send a copy to my son who is at the University of XXX's school of business and who is one of those proverbial nice guys.

Well, I asked for her son's address and sent him a copy of the book, but I'm not sure that it will help.

There is a chance it might. No disrespect intended, but it's possible that whatever is holding him back may require something more powerful than this book to dislodge any impediments from his path to success. Nonetheless, authors Edelman, Hiltabiddle and Manz do a creditable job of laying out the problems of nice but ineffective people. They also provide numerous examples of business people who exhibit such qualities and how these traits affect both their performance and the perceptions of colleagues and supervisors.

They also submit a ''Nice Guy Bill of Rights'' that reads more like a mild-mannered manifesto:

1) Self Awareness -- Know your strengths & weaknesses.
2) Speak Up — Let your opinions be heard.
3) Set Boundaries — Set and respect them.
4) Confront — Address issues directly and without fear.
5) Choose — Make choices without guilt.
6) Expect Results — Be accountable to others and yourself.
7) Be Bold — Push the envelope.
8) Win — Finish first.

This is, to some extent, the type of tome I generally avoid, a self-help book. But in this case, its value extends beyond wimpy, wish-washy, well-meaning workers to a more general audience. Although it may be primarily aimed at people whose inability to say ''no'' proves to be an ongoing impediment to their success, other can benefit from this book, as well.

There are many people — some not so nice — who could make good use of some of the wisdom herein. For example, managing your time is important, as is directly communicating your expectations and intentions. As for staying focused and completing tasks on time, most of this advice is fairly obvious and applicable to nice people, bad people, mean people or just normal people who are nice most of the time.

But ultimately, the Nice Guy shtick wears a little thin. Reading the numerous anecdotes about milquetoast goofballs who sabotage themselves by being acquiescent and compliant rather than assertive and confident may be fine in small doses, but a whole book's worth is a bit much. However, if you're the office doormat, wind up training a new hire for a job that you're qualified for, find yourself sitting in an empty office working on an ''important'' project while everyone else is at the company's annual holiday party or are just concerned about your lack of advancement, this could be the book for you.
published 8/11/08 in The Miami Herald

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