To those of you who have to choose between the genius and the good guy, here’s some good news.
A few days ago, I was in a meeting with some HR personnel when we casually talked about the best performers in the whole company. Then we had a very interesting discovery:
The people who do really outstanding work are the same people that we love to work with. These are the guys who are approachable, helpful, collaborative, trustworthy, unassuming, and self-effacing. They are also quick to deflect credit while praising other people. If ever anyone of them has a feeling of superiority, they are surely keeping it to themselves, which is all right.
Our “discovery” made me think that the days of the arrogant prodigies or the office divas are gone. Where I work, they are isolated and talked about in a negative way.
I am not a psychologist. I don’t know how people become conceited and condescending. But I have a personal experience to share.
Back in college, I was a very nice person from a small town. I loved writing and directing plays. When I went to a writers’ workshop in the big city, I learned that some stage directors in the bigger universities and the professional circuit shouted and mistreated their actors. Nobody complained because it was the “culture.” They were like the army drill sergeants we see in the movies. Public shaming was part of their training routine.
When I came back to my school, I was still a nice guy. But during theater rehearsals, I cursed and demeaned my actors. I felt I was behaving just like the true “professionals.” My closest friends were puzzled because they knew it wasn’t the real me.
An article by Rita Pyrillis in the Talent Management website quoted Sally Helgensen, author and leadership development consultant. Helgensen said that “people let that side of their nature come forward when the culture allows it. It’s not that the company hires a bunch of jerks; it’s that there’s something there that allows that behavior to emerge.“ Pyrillis added that “it comes from the top.” I can agree that the behavior of top management, or even the division head, is the most eloquent way of “laying down the rules.”
In the same article, Pyrillis cited the research by organizational psychologist Stanley Silverman. He concluded “the higher the arrogance, the lower the cognitive ability.“ He also said that arrogant people usually have lower self-esteem that’s why they cover it up and “prove” their competence by disparaging other people.
I think that the really competent people don’t need the facade of self-importance. They are not insecure, they don’t feel threatened. With their track record speaking for themselves, they don’t need to fight for credit. They don’t even whine because they know that the work can be done effortlessly.
The nice guys have a better chance of getting ahead at work because people trust them, support them, and enjoy working with them. They become the go-to guys. Even our company chairman said, “Business is personal. You choose to work only with people you like.”
When these nice guys comment on other people's work, their words are received as constructive because people trust that these guys are helping them, not competing with them.
The truly talented guys are usually humble. So, never assuming that they already know everything, they keep on improving their craft and are not ashamed to learn from the others.
Pyrillis also quoted Mark Newman of HireVue, Inc. Newman admits that he values humility above all because "good leaders listen to others, consider other opinions inconsistent with their own, and have the courage to change their positions when evidence demands.“
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” - Ernest Hemingway
“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.” - Albert Einstein
Executips is a career advice column by Robert Labayen. He was a former Managing Partner and Executive Creative Director in an advertising company. He eventually moved to the country's largest media network where his job involves inspiring people to be their best. He's also a writer, painter, and songwriter.
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