I’m worried about a recent Forbes article that encourages people to be assholes as a way to further their careers.
J. Maureen Henderson’s article, Why It’s Better For Your Career To Be Loathed Than To Be Liked thinks that Erika Napoletano’s obscenity-filled presentations and slides of Sarah Palin copulating with a polar bear are to be admired and cheered.
In the article, Napoletano says:
I’m not concerned with being likeable as a brand or person. I’m concerned with not having to put on a meat suit every day when I stand in front of the world around me. Being honest and building the next better version of you? That’s what creates memorable people, brands and experiences. I don’t give a s*** if I’m likeable. I care the most about whether the people who allow me to do what it is I love every day respect me for who I am and know that I respect them the same way.
I hate, HATE, HATE! it when people equate the phrase “being honest” with “being an asshole.” As if being intentionally offensive is honest and noble, and people who are nice are less of a person.
Shock jocks and sullen teenagers do it, but it gets tiresome after a while, and at the end of the day, no one likes either of them.
These are the same people who say “I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I just say it like it is.”
You know who else speaks their mind and says it like it is?
They don’t have the maturity and tact to think twice about what they’re going to say. How bad does a person have to be when they have the same lack of maturity and tact as a three-year-old? You would think that after 30+ years, they would have figured that out by now.
Whatever happened to being nice and pleasant? Being respectful and kind? I knew a man who ran an entire department, whose daily mantra, both to himself and the people who worked for him, was “be nice.”
It was especially unsettling for the people who worked for him, since many of them were retired military officers, including a colonel who had commanded a tank brigade. Their collective job was to deal with large-scale disasters and emergencies.
But “Be nice” won the day. This guy had the respect and admiration of everyone who worked for him and with him. And they were still able to get the job done and keep people safe.
Being Nice Doesn’t Mean Being a Pushover
I know some people who worry that being nice means you have to let people walk all over you, or that people are going to take advantage of you.
That’s not what it means.
Being nice means you don’t belittle someone or try to hurt them. You don’t screw someone out of a business relationship. It means you don’t have a deliberate “screw you” attitude when dealing with people you disagree with.
Being nice means you treat people with kindness and respect. It means you stand firm on your convictions and you speak up — loudly, if necessary — when the situation calls for it. It means you stand up against bullies, and speak for people who don’t have a voice. Being nice doesn’t mean being a wimp, it means being strong, but respectful.
I have never known anyone to be fired or lose a client because they were nice.
“We had to let him go. He did good work, but he was always polite and helpful, and had a kind word for everyone. I hated him.”
There are plenty of people who get fired for being unlikable. For being rude, irksome, boorish, crude, inflammatory, and loathsome. No one was sad to see them go, and some people even got a going away party held in their honor.
After they were gone. And they weren’t invited.
Either Way, Bring Your A-Game
Henderson’s article says, if you’re going to be an asshole — I’m paraphrasing here — you’d better bring your A-game. You can’t just be offensive and be bad at your job, because then you’re just offensive, and you’ll be fired.
Napoletano believes that it’s okay to be loathsome as long as the clients love what you’re doing.
Which is true. But it’s also true that you still have to bring your A-game if you’re nice.
People don’t keep you around because you’re nice if you’re not providing a benefit. They want results. They want success. They want a positive ROI. And it doesn’t matter if you bake cookies for the office every Friday, if you’re not producing, you’ll be let go.
I prefer being the nice guy. I like helping people. I want to see, and help, people accomplish their goals and succeed in their endeavors. The whole reason Kyle Lacy and I wrote Branding Yourself was to help people, because there were a lot of people out of work, under employed, or in a job they hated. We wanted to help them find their way out of that.
Bottom line, your personal brand is yours to define, any way you want. You can be kind and helpful and nice to people, and have people who love to work with you and spend time with you, or you can be pompous, outrageous, and loathsome.
You can be likable and have people who want to work with you, or be loathsome and say you don’t care if you’re liked or not (which is good, because you’re probably not).
You can be successful with either approach, but one is going to bring you — and everyone else around you — more happiness.
Photo credit: B_Heyer (Flickr)