Be Nice!

Answer this: Are you suppressing your own ambition because you’re concerned success will hurt your working relationships? 

In “Lean In,” Sheryl Sandberg explains that, “As women get more powerful, they become less likeable.” Sandberg refers to this phenomenon as the “likeability-penalty” for women, and faults it as one factor that holds women leaders back.

But, leadership development consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman beg to differ. In the Harvard Business School blog, they write:

“While, certainly, some individual women may find themselves disliked as they move up the organization, our aggregate data show the opposite is more common — that male leaders are perceived more negatively as they rise, whereas women generally maintain their popularity throughout their entire careers.”

According to the data from their likability quiz, women fell 3 percentage points when they moved from first-level supervisor to middle manager, while men fell 6 points. But from there, women stayed at roughly the same level, while men became even less liked as they crossed into senior management. 

In fact, the likability of those women is probably why they are successful. 

Social media and customer service expert Peter Shankman of Shankman Honig asserts that being nice and being liked could be two of your greatest professional assets. In “Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management is Over and Collaboration is In,” Shankman says, “Nice companies not only finish first, but make a ton more money than their not-nice counterparts. As more companies realize that we live in a global, open society, where everything we do is online in seconds, they’ll learn that being ‘nice’ is better than being ‘social.’ When you’re just ‘social,’ you’re constantly putting out fires. When you’re nice, your customers will talk about how awesome you are, and customers will follow.”

And yes, in my own professional circles, I mostly see the nicest women rising to the top.

Lately, I’ve had the privilege of meeting female CEOs of giant media and technology companies (companies worth millions and even billions) including Gilt Group,, DailyMotion, Bluemercury cosmetics, and (a former CEO of) Citigroup. I’m stunned by how nice these women are.

Former CEO Darline Jean is temporarily serving as an executive advisor to DailyWorth. She is one of the most successful Internet executives in the industry in part because of her calm, kind demeanor. She’s unwavered by stress and tense conversations. She never loses her cool in front of team members nor does she ever use her authority to dominate decision-making. She exudes a warm, jovial vibe that lights up our entire team when she walks through the door. She helps me steer the ship by asking pointed questions while digging deep into the numbers.  There’s not an ounce of cattiness or power-play from her. She’s one of my most admired role models.

When choosing how much to lean in, remember you can write your own rules. You can have all of your success without losing your sense of self or the values that are important to you.

What genuinely nice CEOs do you admire and why?


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