Compassionate Management: Nice Guys Finish First

Compassionate Management: Nice Guys Finish First

They are questions both parents and managers often ask. Is it better to be nice so people like you? Or does the tough-love approach get more results? Are people more responsive when you demand respect and hard work?

Most people think it’s better to be tough. After all, when you’re kind you risk someone may take advantage of you, right?

Maybe not.

New findings in the field of organizational research offer some surprising answers. It turns out, “fairness” is a critical piece to the puzzle. Studies show when leaders are fair, team members are nicer and more respectful to each other. Their productivity also improves.

What’s more, leaders who show a willingness to sacrifice for others inspire greater loyalty and commitment. Their employees even go out of their way to be helpful and friendly to coworkers.

Racking Up Wins

Researchers at Harvard Business School say kind people do finish first. When leaders project warmth, workers relate that to trust, and employees feel greater trust toward someone who is kind. Still, a warm demeanor needs to be balanced with management strategies that keep others from taking advantage.

For those in the “tough” camp, researchers caution that putting pressure on workers only creates stress. It doesn’t improve productivity or performance.

The finding echoes what we’ve known for years: As stress grows, so does the negative cost to employers and employees.

Stress can have an equally negative effect on kids. In response, they may become more aggressive or withdraw. In contrast, a culture where kindness is valued helps put a lid on stress. When we see acts of kindness, it calms the brain’s stress response. Less stress helps lower our heart rate and blood pressure. It also strengthens the immune system.

A good boss may, literally, be good for the heart!

Looking at the research, it makes sense that trust and mutual cooperation fuel a happy, collaborative, productive workplace. No wonder an engagement poll by Gallup shows employees place well-being above all other workplace perks. A compassionate workplace fosters engagement, not with material goods, but through a commitment to values, ethics, genuine kindness and self-sacrifice.

Sources: Why Being a “Nice Boss” Isn’t Enough, leaving site icon Fast Company, 2022; The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss, leaving site icon Harvard Business Review, 2014; Employee Wellbeing is Key for Workplace Wellbeing, leaving site icon Gallup, 2022.

Originally published 2/1/2016; Revised 2022