Making the case for Nice Guys Finishing First is not all that complicated. There’s plenty of support to draw from. We can consider the scientific rationale provided by psychologists and sociologists which shows that Nice Guy approaches are more instinctively appealing and naturally motivating to other human beings. Or we can follow the conclusions and doctrine of the most highly revered philosophers and theologists in human history who make the case based on arguments of logic and ethics. It’s all very compelling to be sure. But let’s face it, there’s nothing as compelling as a good-old-fashioned example.
I realize that a sample size of N=1 is not statistically projectable (I only got a C+ in college Statistics, but I learned that much). But often, a good story makes a better case than any scientific evidence ever could. And that’s why, in making the case for Nice Guys over the past year, it was fun to write about some of the more notable Nice Guy stories.
Profiles of Nice Guys
Pierre Omidyar – When eBay went public in 1998, Pierre Omidyar – it’s primary founder – became one of the wealthiest 31-year-olds in the world. But his humility and kind disposition never changed. His company was founded on the “Golden Rule” principle that people should always ”treat others as they would want to be treated.” The eBay business model relied upon the concept of mutual trust between human beings. And Omidyar gambled his future company on this assumption of trust, saying that ”if you give people the benefit of the doubt, you’re rarely disappointed.” He personally made billions proving the axiom that Nice Guys Finish First (although he’s been working hard ever since to give most of his wealth away), and he was a perfect antithesis to the stereotype that successful businessmen have to be ruthless in their dealings.
Tony Dungy – If we wanted to find current examples of old-school, military boot-camp management styles, then we need not look any further than the world of sports – and specifically – the world of professional football coaching (assuming we exclude an actual military boot camp for our purposes here). And that’s why Tony Dungy, the retired head football coach of the Indianapolis Colts, was such a perfect model for Nice Guys in the world of sports. Football coaches in particular have been renowned – and even celebrated – for their no-nonsense, aggressive, and at times abusive style of “motivating” their players to perform. Dungy broke that mold. He rejected the old-school tools like yelling, screaming, insulting and humiliating, and instead relied on more enlightened motivational approaches such as communication, instruction and treating his players with dignity and respect. The results proved out his model, and Coach Dungy walked away from the NFL as one of the most successful coaches in professional football history.
Phil Mickelson – The timing was perfect. Tiger Woods had dominated the world of golf as its super hero for over a decade when events surrounding the discovery of his infidelity suddenly rendered him a tragic hero. And thus Phil Mickelson emerged as the perfect anti hero. As the Nice Guy alter ego to Tiger’s nasty ego, Phil had endured years as the perpetual bride’s maid and runner up to the dominant Woods. But while Mickelson lagged Tiger in championships and sponsorship income (although Phil is no slouch in either category, to be fair), he superseded Tiger in other areas such as character, demeanor and his popular fan-friendly style. This contrast played out in dramatic splendor during Tiger’s return to the PGA Tour at a tournament in North Carolina this past April. While Tiger was busy answering questions about how he would refrain from cursing on the course and fornicating off the course, Phil was busy welcoming his wife back to the tour after an 11-month absence due to breast cancer treatment. Oh, and just to puncuate the story, Mickelson won that tournament, by the way.
Armando Galarraga – Earlier in the year this previously unknown 28-year-old pitcher for the Detroit Tigers pitched a perfect game. Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows how extremely rare this feat is. And anyone who knows about this story knows how the first-base umpire blew the call for what should have been the final out in the game, thereby robbing Galarraga of his perfect game and his rightful place in baseball history. That alone was newsworthy. But what was even more newsworthy was how Galarraga handled this debacle. He calmly walked back to the mound and pitched the (second) final out of the game. He then forgave the umpire for making the mistake of a lifetime. Then, in an impressive display of character, while handling the ceremonial scorecard exchange at home plate before the following day’s game, he consoled the very same umpire – who was overcome with emotion and guilt over his mistake – with a forgiving handshake and pat on the back.
A common denominator across each of these profiles is obviously that they are all Nice Guys who enjoyed enormous success in one form or another. But they also share a common purpose as well. And that purpose is to serve as examples or models of how Nice Guys can Finish First not in spite of themselves, but because of themselves. And there are infinitely more examples like this.
The word “model” is predominantly defined as an object used to represent something, often to represent the latest and greatest specimen of a particular design, concept or vision. In that sense “model” is an aspirational word. As a consuming public we celebrate and salivate over all sorts of models, from new car models to fashion super models to athletic performances from so-called role models. The hope is that we could celebrate behavioral models as well, such as the guys listed above. And while we’re on the subject, let me add one more name to the list of Nice Guy models before the year’s end: Richard Branson.
From time to time, people write in and suggest examples of Nice Guy stories. A short while ago a former colleague suggested I highlight Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group. He noticed that Branson had been a contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine in an on-line Q&A feature. One such article was aptly titled Nice Guys Can Finish First. In this piece Branson was asked if one needed to be aggressive when it came to tough business negotiations. Branson replied no, that in fact the opposite was true. He said, “I hope we are successful at Virgin because we engage with everyone in a positive, inclusive manner rather than in an aggressive, combative or negative way.” And he attributed much of his own success to establishing good relationships and creating a fun environment. I thought that qualified him as a successful Nice Guy.
While these celebrity Nice Guy stories can be interesting and compelling, we still need to remind ourselves that each of us is a model in our own right, with a chance to influence many others around us just by our everyday behavior. We may not be super models, but we can definitely offer others something to aspire to. Perhaps there’s a New Year’s resolution in there somewhere.