Canadian Manufacturing

Nice guy managers may actually finish first

by Mike Ouellette   

Human Resources Operations labour strategy

We have all had managers whose hard driving, win-at-all-costs attitude made at least a portion of our lives miserable.

We accept the treatment because those managers were usually regarded as winners—tough, results oriented people who get the job done.

But that conventional wisdom may be wrong, according to a new study by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in partnership with North Carolina based consultants Green Peak Partners.

The study, What Predicts Executive Success?, suggests that consistently strong performance is most likely to come from leaders who are emotionally intelligent and self aware.


“Our findings directly challenge the conventional view that ‘drive for results at all costs’ is the right approach,” said Dr. Becky Winkler, principal at Green Peak Partners. “The executives most likely to deliver good bottom line results are actually self-aware leaders who are especially good at working with individuals and in teams.”

Winkler is not alone in identifying this trend.

Tiziana Casciaro, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, says there may be something to it.

Casciaro, who co-authored a report in the Harvard Business Review titled Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools and the Formation of Social Networks, says there are basically two types of motivation that activate people’s actions.

The prevention focus motivates workers by forcing them to perform in an effort to avoid punishment or a negative experience.

Fear, basically.

The promotion focus allows people to perform with potential to achieve something good.

“[Both methods] are motivating, but the speculation is [to achieve] long-term, sustainable motivation the promotion focus may be more effective because the other type can be deflating,” says Casciaro.

She says it’s possible leaders with self awareness know how to handle people, and likely use the promotion type of motivation more systematically.

Hard driving leaders—good candidates for a higher level of egocentrism—may be very careful about their own success as a person and lose focus on what their people need to succeed.

Leaders that can separate themselves from their own needs and focus on those who are essential to performing the tasks required may be more successful over the longer term, which means companies hiring managers should also consider how a prospective leader engages employees.


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