Not too long ago, I wrote a post on niceness as a leadership competency. In addition, Lance Haun and Jennifer V. Miller tossed in their own thoughts on the subject (thanks so much guys). As part of the discussion, Ann Bares shared one of her fave excerpts from Malcolm Gladwell about being fair (versus being nice.) It came from an article in The New Yorker titled “The Politics of Politesse”.
“The problem, of course, is that niceness is overrated as a virtue. Many cultures are nice. The Southern antebellum aristocracy was marvelously well-mannered; its members left tasteful calling cards, entertained gracefully, and conducted their personal affairs with the utmost discretion. But they had few other virtues; in fact, it was the practice of niceness that helped to keep other values, such as fairness, at bay. Fairness sometimes requires that surfaces be disturbed, that patterns of cordiality be broken, and that people, rudely and abruptly, be removed from their place. Niceness is the enemy of fairness.”
I want to thank Ann for sharing that. It really got me thinking about the concept of fairness in our roles as managers and leaders. Being fair is such an important competency and we spend so little time talking about it. Of course, we want to believe all of our decisions are fair. But many times our decisions cause us to get labeled “unfair” by our employees. So how do we learn how to be fair?
Being considered fair is a result of trust. Each of us gains the trust of others by being honest, holding ourselves accountable, acting in a transparent manner, and communicating clearly. If we are trusted when we make decisions, even if it shakes things up a little as Gladwell mentions, people understand we have considered all of the options and are acting in the best interest of the organization. Our decisions are therefore deemed fair.
We’ve had a lot of conversation on HR Bartender about nice as a leadership competency. And, I’m sure it won’t be the last time we discuss leadership. But I’ve learned that while being nice might be pleasant … there are other qualities that make us better, and more successful, leaders.