How Nice Guys Finish First

Last Updated Oct 9, 2008 2:58 PM EDT

About 15 years ago business academia made the astonishing discovery that business success is not just about being a brain on sticks. They discovered that besides IQ, good managers needed EQ -- emotional quotient. So the academics were only about 50 years behind reality -- nothing new there, then.

And the academics are still way behind reality. Look around your organisation and see who makes it to the top. There are plenty of smart (high IQ) and nice (high EQ) people who remain in the background. Casual inspection shows that in many places the people who rise to the top are not that smart and have the interpersonal skills of a pterodactyl on a bad day. Clearly, something is missing.

It's PQ -- which I've blogged about before. PQ is about understanding how to make the organisation work for you, how to make things happen even when you do not have the formal authority to make it happen. As organisations get flatter, standard operating procedure is that managers responsibilities exceed their authority: this is a world in which it is easy to hide but difficult to shine. As organisations become flatter, so the need for PQ becomes greater. You have to make things happen through people you do not control.

The essence of successful PQ is building networks, or alliances, of support -- but don't mistake these for friendships. As Castlereagh, British Foreign secretary at the height of empire, said: "Britain has not permanant friends: it only has permanant interests". Alliances are built on common interests and common trust. In essence, you help me and I will help you.

Building trust is straightforward, but takes time. Three simple steps can get anyone started:

  1. Show you have some common interests and values. Initially, these may be common interests outside work. Within work, find ways in which you can align your agenda with theirs.
  2. Walk the talk -- demonstrate that you can deliver. Initially, you might help someone on something small (copy them on a good article, like this one, for instance). That will snowball.
  3. Reduce the risk. Start small, make things simple, don't ask for the world on day one. As your mutual trust grows you can start to work on bigger commitments.
Start building these alliances with enough of the right sorts of people across the organisation, and you will become someone who can makes things happen. People will start seeking you out. Even nice people can be power players if they know how.
  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership