As women rise up the ranks in companies, they often get advice warning about coming across as too “nice.” Nice people are push-overs. They aren’t seen as leaders, they can’t make the tough decisions or command respect. Or as one bestselling book once put it, “Nice girls don’t get the corner office.”
But is this true? Today’s Best of Both Worlds guest, Fran Hauser, has spent much time in corner offices, and is also a very nice person. Sarah and I interviewed her about her career (including her stint running Time digital, and launching People.com, and now as an angel investor) and about her book, The Myth of the Nice Girl.
Hauser describes how being nice has often been her superpower. Once, while working at Coca-Cola, she was promoted to lead a rather large division (over more senior people) precisely because her teams really liked her. She was the person who asked about her team members’ weekends, and then actually listened to the answer. Turns out such “idle” chit-chat can be a good use of time! On more than one occasion, she has been brought in to jump-start a stalled negotiation. As an empathetic person, she can talk about what the other side really wants, and needs, in order to feel the negotiation turned out well.
Of course, nice leaders still need to do tough things: give critical feedback, conduct layoffs, or fire people for cause. Hauser talks in this episode about how she has handled all these situations. Particularly with critical feedback, coming into the conversation from the perspective that “I am your biggest fan” — and you want the feedback to work — can go a long way.
In any case, I hope you will give the episode a listen, and check out The Myth of the Nice Girl. And in the comments, feel free to answer about how “niceness” has affected your career, or how you might answer the listener question that came in this week. I had mentioned in a previous episode and blog post that I had spent serious time reading during a kid activity, and the listener wanted to know how I pulled this off. Did I get dirty looks from other parents who wanted to socialize? We talk about the upside of simply disappearing, or of using your phone (which seems like less of a statement than a book), and also of recognizing that everyone lives in his or her own little world. My default assumption is that no one actually notices what I do, or is thinking about me one way or the other. This has some upsides and downsides (and fits in to the “niceness” theme of this episode) but is one way to view the universe!