Nice guys finish last, but should they?


Does power always need announcing?Being powerful is very much like being a lady.  If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

So said one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century, and in the intervening years one would like to think that this still holds true.  Sadly, it seems to be a saying that is being confined to the history books.

It has sadly become simple common knowledge in many local authorities that if you are likeable you are not management material.  Those who are amenable, friendly and supportive are seen as valuable members of any team and allowed a certain amount of responsibility, but are then overlooked for more senior roles as they are regarded as soft, easily led or not hard-nosed enough.  Only bossy people get to be the boss.

This isn’t how it should be, and how many want it to be.  A good leader needs to understand the carrot and stick approach.  They need to understand when to offer advice, guidance and support and when to take the advice of Malcolm Tucker and stick the carrot in a certain orifice.

Of the two skills, the latter is certainly the more visible and the more easy to pull off.  We are almost all capable of being nasty, aggressive and belittling, and certainly remember those individuals who treat us in such a manner.  Those meetings when those with any power throw it around, battling with others like rutting stags, are the meetings that get spoken about and give the victors reputations as someone not to be trifled with.

Far more difficult is to lead with calm authority, with a positive attitude and in a supportive manner.  These are leaders who inspire their teams, who are facilitators and who are usually excellent communicators.  They are often very popular with colleagues and their team members, and underappreciated by their superiors.  In fact, they are often more than simply overlooked; they are deemed weak and not capable of cracking the whip.

As is highlighted in most episodes of the apprentice, effective leadership is about making decisions.  Those decisions can be influenced by a team, with advice taken on board and into account, but the final decisions lies with that leader.  Autocratic leaders, those who bark orders and shout a lot without listening, often make quicker decisions which can be useful in pressure situations.  Think police officers or perhaps Genghis Khan (no relation between the two of course).

Democratic leaders, those who take the time to be influenced by those around them, can make far more informed decisions although it can take longer to make them.  They are excellent in non-time pressure situations, less useful when quick decisions are demanded, and often are seen to be only as effective as the team that influences them.

It is safe to say that the former group dominate the higher echelons of local government.  Often, almost all appear to feel that they are democratic, that they engage with their staff and that they take comments on board, but when push comes to shove they fall back on the far more simple autocratic methodology, with some even falling into narcissistic leadership styles.

Going back to The Apprentice, it was refreshing to see the nice guy winning at last.  From what I saw he appeared to support his colleagues throughout, threw out plenty of ideas and was generally a pleasant chap.  When required he stood up for himself, but openly admitted to his mistakes and took responsibility for them before stating a desire to learn from them.

Local government could do a lot worse than look for more people like Tom.  There are enough people out there who bark orders and bash heads; a little balance is perhaps long overdue.

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2 Comments on “Nice guys finish last, but should they?”


  1. “being nice = popular, being nice and effective = influential”

    @PhilJewitt’s words of wisdom from the journey home from #Localgovcamp a few weeks ago

  2. Blair Mcpherson Says:

    Unfortunately you use a bad example to support your argument. Tom the winner of the apprentice lost all bar one of the exercises and showed himself to be an ineffective leader, unable to assert himself or influence others. He won because this year they were not looking for a manager/ leader but an inventor/entrepreneur.
    Blair


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