How Can You Be Nice And Successful?

tough but fair

I fell into a trap early in my career. I was wildly successful, well respected, promoted every year, and I was getting more and more responsibility.

You’re wondering, “What is the problem? That’s what everyone wants, right?”

Yes, you want to be successful, but you don’t want to be a jerk.

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I was a jerk.

I was a tough guy (I still am, btw.) in a kill-or-be-killed environment. I reveled in the kill. I needlessly hurt people. I did it because I wanted to win.

I was young. I had a lot of growing and learning to do. And, I certainly wasn't thinking clearly.

I knew I needed to make a change because I realized that needlessly pissing people off wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to go. So I decided to change.

I was still going to be tough, but I was going to go out of my way to be nice at the same time. My goal was eliminating the jerk piece.


Can it be done? Can you be tough and nice at the same time? Won't being nice hurt your chances of success?


Being nice doesn’t mean you’re weak.

I did some deep soul searching, and I asked myself the question, “Has being a jerk EVER, EVER helped you?”

As I went through my successes, they had nothing to do with being a jerk. Not one of them.

But, I was still torn. “What about all the times I had to push people to get something done? How nice was I then?”

So, I asked myself a second question, “Can you demanding, and be nice at the same time?”

I honestly didn’t know the answer, but I was anxious to try.

It’s hard to be tough and nice, but you can do it.

So, I embarked on my quest to be tough and nice at the same time. It wasn’t easy, and I wasn’t always perfect, but I could tell I was moving in the right direction.

The best feedback that I was improving came from Jack Gifford, the CEO of Maxim Integrated Products, where I was working at the time. Gifford told me, “i’m hearing really good things about the way you’re working with people.” That meant a lot.


You will not always be perfect.


I was now on my way. Since that moment years ago, I haven’t looked back. And, you know what? It feels so much better to achieve success when you’re not a jerk.

In fact, when I started my company, one of things I was adamant about was we would have a “no jerks” policy. I didn’t want to work with someone like I was either.

This new way of working revolves around five things I strive to do every day:


A. Handle yourself with class and grace.


This is my guiding principle. It drives everything I do, every day. I always think of this when I get angry.


B. Have empathy.


Remember, it could be you. In fact it probably was you. I know it was me, certainly!

Think of how you want to be treated. Think about why the person made a mistake.

Were they trying their best? Most times they were. So, be a coach, an empathetic coach.


C. Listen, listen, listen.


You don’t learn anything when you are talking. You only learn when you listen.


D. You should have high expectations.


Your expectations should still be high, maybe even higher, because of the great environment you’ve created.


E. Hold your teammates accountable.


Like I said previously, your employees want to be held accountable.

But isn’t being tough the same as being a jerk?

Years ago, I had to fire one of my co-founders, “Randy”. I was talking with one of our investors, “Raul”, about it, and I said, “He’s such a tough, intimidating guy…”

Raul cut me off before I could say another word. He said, “Brett, you’re a tough guy. You meet your plan.”

That one sentence explains the difference between being tough and a jerk.

Tough people meet their plains. We tend to confuse toughness with intimidation.

Toughness in business is about meeting and exceeding expectations. It’s really, really tough to meet and exceed expectations.

The best way to exceed explanations is surround yourself with really talented people, give them a great environment to succeed, and hold them accountable.

It’s all white noise when you are yelling all the time. Your employees tune out and you lose your effectiveness. Be a jerk often enough – yell for no reason often enough – and you'll lose your employees too. Worse, you'll lose your best people first.


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