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Are You Nice?

Typically I give the Times’ Corner Office in Sunday’s paper a quick skim and go on. But today’s was a show-stopper. Entitled A Deal-Breaker Question for Job Interviews,
Adam Bryant interviews Andy Lansing of Levy Restaurants in Chicago.
After a bit of his background and how he became CEO of the company,
Bryant asks Lansing what he’s looking for when he’s in a hiring mode. 

Here’s Lansing’s answer: I have a
pretty nontraditional approach to hiring. I hire for two traits–I hire
for nice and I hire for passion. If you sit down with me, no matter how
senior you are in the company or the position you’re applying for, my
first question to you is going to be, are you nice? And the reactions
are priceless. There’s usually a long pause, like they’re waiting for me
to smile or they’re waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and say,
“you’re being punked.” Because who asks that question? And then I say,
“No, seriously, are you nice.”

I read the interview again to make sure that was Lansing’s question.
Yep. That’s it. My first response was self-centered to the core. “So,
Erwin,” I thought, “when a client hires you, is he hiring someone who’s
nice?” I won’t tell you my answer.

But my second response was that Lansing’s question was actually a
very smart riff on Bob Sutton’s no asshole rule. Sutton’s groundbreaking
book is a lot more than just a reflection about social friction among
colleagues. Sutton details the kind of people who make you scream “What
an asshole.” Even more significantly, he musters the kind of research
that ought to make any exec sit up and take notice to the assholes
working for them. Bennett Tepper’s research on abusive supervision is
just one telling example. Tepper examined 712 employees in a midwestern
city, finding that many of them had abusive bosses who “used ridicule,
put-downs, the silent treatment, and insults like ‘tells me I’m
incompetent’ and “Tells me my thoughts or feelings are stupid.'” These
not-nice bosses drove people out of organizations and “sapped the
effectiveness” of those who stayed. When Tepper followed up his research
six months later, he found that those with “abusive supervisors quit
their jobs at accelerated rates, and those still trapped in their jobs
suffered from less work and life satisfaction, reduced commitment to
employers and heightened depression, anxiety and burnout.”

So when Andy Lansing hires for “nice,” he’s got his finger on an exceptionally important matter.

But my gray matter didn’t stop with that. I momentarily questioned
whether “passionate” people would be productive people. Obviously, yes.
Passion may well be the driving component for competency. A person who’s
passionate about her job is going to perform at the highest level
possible. What came immediately to mind was that meta-research on warmth and competency.
What studies consistently find is that the person who’s both nice and
passionate, translated as “warm” and “competent,” consistently performs
at the highest level. 

Warm, nice guys–friendly, helpful, trustworthy, sincere and
moral–are easy to relate to and good to have around. If they’re just
nice, though, eventually they elicit pity and sympathy from other–get
ignored, and lose their status. That’s why you’re reading a lot of new
research about the fact that nice guys (guys who are only warm and
likable) don’t make it to the top.

In contrast, passionate guys–competent, efficient, smart, creative
and productive–are great for their team and their company. Of course,
if they’re just competent, though, these cold fish, stinkers and
assholes get added to the jerk heap.

But, as Lansing has found, put nice and passionate together and you’ve got a winner. 

Sounds to me like Andy Lansing would be a great guy to work for. And
I’ll bet his company does very well. Which leads me to ask the question:
Are you nice? And are you passionate about your job? 

 
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