Can Successful People Be Nice?

- Sep• 20•12
Art Markman of the Harvard Business Review recently wrote an article, “Are Successful People Nice?”in which he discusses how emotional intelligence plays into successful leadership.

According to the study by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the key is how agreeable you are. Specifically, being agreeable is defined as the extent to which you value getting along with others, and the degree to which you are willing to be critical of others.

So, does kindness equal weakness? Or does being dominant a trait that makes one worthy of being a leader?

Click here to read more about how being agreeable or disagreeable affects how others perceive your leadership abilities.

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  6. Kristen Pearce says:

    Just read through your articles. Both thought provoking and challenging concepts for the traditional leader mentality! The one about successful people being nice made me think about my current role as an early childhood mental health consultant and the parallel between academic success and business success. While i know there are lots of layers between these two domains, i would still pose that they are relatable. Research has shown that the number one predictor for a child’s success in school is their social and emotional development. From a very early age we stress this with parents and encourage them to reinforce these skills at home knowing that this will be the foundation for all of their future academic success. Why this has lost value with age, i’m not sure….Perhaps we need to go back to the basics and reconsider the importance in the adult business world?! 😉

  7. Alvin Conley says:

    Thanks for sharing this article. I often considered this question myself when I left the classroom for administration. My experience as an administrator is somewhat limited but, I have had great opportunities to observe and learn from diverse administrators.

    At this point in my career I can say that I value relationships with my colleagues. From the janitors to the teachers to the office staff I care about what these people think about their role in educating our students. My approach is to connect with my staff and communicate the best I can my personal philosophy of education and work to learn about theirs. Expressing my desire to grow as a leader and to help others grow to achieve their goals seems to help when I need to have some difficult conversations. Anchoring on the fact that I care about the students and their needs will always come first makes this a little easier in my field than other professionals may experience in the
    corporate world. How can a person argue with wanting the best for kids?

    The leaders I have watched struggle over the years are the ones that seem to lack the ability to develop relationships with the staff or to demonstrate empathy. On the other hand, I have watched people struggle who are too “nice” to see some of the areas that may need to be addressed. I think there is a balance here that I try to achieve with my staff. I do want people to feel great about coming to work and to enjoy being with their students and colleagues. I also want people to know that I will hold high standards for everybody including myself. I believe this can happen but, it requires communication on many levels and leading with integrity.

    At the end of the day I am still learning from great leaders and my position on this topic continues to evolve. Thanks again for sharing. I plan to carry this discussion on with some fellow colleagues.

  8. If I understood your question correctly, and depending on your definition of success, I would say “yes.”

    The successful people I know are “nice guys” who do not “finish last.” They exhibit leadership qualities of trust, honesty and caring for others.

    Here are ten characteristics that I share with my clients who are job hunting or who are struggling with who they are and what they want to become.

    1. Successful people do not define their success only in terms of high-dollar salaries or commissions.

    2. Successful people subscribe to the “value added” contribution they can make in building community.

    3. Successful people are assertive and clear in their goals. They do not knowingly step on someone else to achieve their goals.

    4. Successful people are good listeners who try to understand another reasonable person’s point of view.

    5. Successful people are polite and courteous to people from all walks of life from the homeless person just looking for his next meal to well-known people who have titles.

    6. Successful people share and are known for giving of self for important projects that make a difference to the community.

    7. Successful people are happy and positive about life! If they hit a “rough patch” they look at all their options, including asking for help from others.

    8. Successful people believe in a Higher Power and pay attention to their spiritual life. They admit to praying for God’s guidance.

    9. Successful people are flexible and resilient. The don’t come unglued when they meet obstacles and challenges.

    10. Successful people understand the need for balance in their lives. They take care of themselves and spend quality time with those they love.

  9. Alan says:

    I think that Markman’s article was simplistic – being nice in leadership is more complicated than his premise implies. Whether a person is considered to be “nice” or not, his/her leadership has more to do with trust in that person’s integrity and respect for that person’s judgment. A pleasant person (nice guy) is not necessarily the one you want to follow. A leader sets standards and goals, communicates these well and solicits the best in others, and sets the example by his/her own performance. I’d rather follow a competent curmudgeon than friendly fool.

    Just my thoughts.

  10. Kelly says:


    We run our business with the mentality that you get “more bees with honey, than vinegar”. Especially when it comes to working with contractors, vendors & trades people. We’ve had several situation with tight deadlines or where problems have come up & they’ve always come thru for us because we are respectful of them & “nice” to work with.

    I think the key is being “nice with a backbone”!