Kindness and Colleagues: How Just a Spoon Full of Sugar Can Boost Your Career

Tavia Ewen, Associate 

One of the reasons I love what I do is that I get to spend my days interacting with top-notch executives, most of whom are highly educated, well-traveled, and passionate about their work. I enjoy learning about their achievements and hearing about their visions for their organization. I typically go home after a long day believing that I’ve gained something, whether it’s new insight into a particular industry or organization, or that I have built a valuable connection with someone.

Some people, of course, are more delightful than others: I recall one executive who was always so genuine and pleasant when she called our office that our receptionist was secretly rooting for her throughout her candidacy. Unfortunately, others have left just as distinct, though not as favorable, impressions; proof positive that whether you are a candidate for a position or firmly entrenched in an organization, the way you interact with others will have a direct impact on your career.

Impoliteness has never been a winning trait, and one sure-fire way to put your leadership (and ability to manage subordinates) in question is by being rude to someone who holds a lower level position. Whether you are interviewing with an executive search firm or a corporation, most organizations take into account the opinion of everyone you interact with during your interview process. If general decency doesn’t compel you to treat everyone with respect, then the fact that more than 70 percent of companies solicit the receptionist’s opinion of a candidate should. I once knew an executive who always had his personal assistant trade places with the receptionist when a candidate was scheduled to arrive. Those who treated her poorly met with this executive only long enough to be told why they were no longer in the running for the role.

Good behavior shouldn’t be limited to the times you’re in the spotlight, however. An executive recently organized a charity golf tournament during which an intoxicated attendee spilled wine all over her shorts. With hours left in the event and a stain that wouldn’t budge, my acquaintance went to her car and changed into a crisp, clean tennis skirt she had on hand. Upon returning to the event, another woman tapped on her shoulder and haughtily asked if she knew how inappropriate her short skirt was, not recognizing her as the organizer of the event and a senior executive in their organization. As a result, this woman has been prohibited from working future charity events where her rude, outspoken behavior could potentially alienate attendees and tarnish the company’s good reputation.

In an even worse twist of karmic fate, a friend who is General Counsel with a major corporation in the area was running late to meet with a candidate for an entry level position in his department. As he exited the freeway, a young man whisked past, cutting him off and giving him the middle fingered salute on his way. When the General Counsel arrived at his office and greeted his candidate in the lobby, guess who he found sitting there?

You never know who is seated next to you on the airplane, standing behind you in the supermarket, or watching you from across a crowded restaurant. Maybe we don’t all have naturally kind, friendly, engaging personalities that attract others to us; certainly everyone has bad days, occasionally overblown egos, or the infrequent case of road rage. That’s still no excuse to treat others around you with anything other than grace and respect. As George Eliot said, “Our deeds determine us as much as we determine our deeds.” Don’t let your deeds grind your career to a halt.

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