Provision #685: Nice Matters

Laser Provision

Somewhere along the line, people developed the idea that leaders have to be tough and nasty, rather than soft and nice, in order to get things done. Work is viewed as a chore, that people don’t want to do, and bosses are viewed as taskmasters and disciplinarians who have to crack the whip. Sound familiar? If you harbor such notions or experiences, then this Provision • which comes out over the US Labor Day weekend (May Day in much of the rest of the world) • invites you to think again. There really is a better way to get things done.

LifeTrek Provision

As you read this I may be sitting behind home plate at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. My most memorable moment in Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, took place about 26 years ago, in 1984, when my son was an infant in arms. Living and working on the far North Side, we were Cubs fans and all the way down to the game on the elevated I kept saying, “I’m going to catch a ball today. I’m going to catch a ball.”

When we saw our seats, about as high as you could go in the upper deck just off to the right of home plate, our chances looked slim. None the less, every time there was a pop foul ball, I would stand and yell, “It’s mine!” And every time, it didn’t come anywhere near us. After the 7th inning stretch, I took my turn on baby duty since our son had gotten tired and a little fussy. I had a way of getting our kids to settle down when they were little.

No sooner had I gotten our son asleep, than we heard the crack of the bat. And there was the ball, coming right at me. I thought about ditching my son, but there wasn’t time. So I just stood up, reached out, and grabbed it with a one hand stab. Perfect. It sits proudly on a shelf to this very day in my home. “Rawlings HAITI * Official Ball * National League Charles S. Feeney, PRES Cushioned Cork Center RO-N.”

Since the ball was hit in the game at least once, it is a little scuffed up, but the stitching is in perfect condition. I could sell it on eBay for about $50. If I had gotten the ball autographed, it might fetch $500 or even $5,000. Yet I wouldn’t want to part with it. Too many memories. My one and only. And our son didn’t even wake up!

That’s what Labor Day is for. In much of the rest of the world, the contributions and accomplishments of Labor are celebrated on May 1 • May Day. But in the United States, to avoid associations with the anarchist Haymarket affair in 1886, Congress proclaimed the first Monday in September of each year as the legal Labor Day holiday. According to the US Department of Labor:

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday • a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day.

Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

So what could be better on Labor Sunday than to celebrate vital workplaces with this Provision, followed by some recreation and amusement at Wrigley Field? Life is good.

One thing is clear when it comes to vital workplaces: nice matters. In the wake of the industrial revolution, workplaces got pretty nasty. Boring, repetitive, injury-prone, assembly-line tasks are not the way human beings prefer to work. To get people to work that way, employers empowered leaders to dole out rewards and punishments in an attempt to control the behavior of employees.

That approach was not always successful. Human beings are not lab rats. We have more on our minds than winning carrots and avoiding sticks. Behaviorism may sound scientific but that doesn’t make it a sound approach when it comes to leadership. Extending empathy, autonomy, and purpose, to mention only three more humanistic dimensions, will often get leaders a whole lot further than incentive plans.

That’s especially true in the post-industrial era. Boring, repetitive, injury-prone, assembly-line tasks have been automated and outsourced such that increasing numbers of people are working in environments where inspiration matters more than perspiration. And even tough, dirty jobs are requiring increasing levels of creativity and innovation on the part of non-management employees. When it comes to leadership, we’ve clearly entered an era where nice matters.

So what do I mean by nice? I don’t mean wimpy. I mean exactly what I wrote about nine years ago in Provisions: act Neighborly, be Interested, feel Connected, and employ Etiquette. I turned N-I-C-E into an acronym, and here were the Laser Provisions that summarized each dimension:

  1. Being nice is not a state of mind but an active lifestyle. It’s a matter of acting Neighborly with the people in our lives • at work, home, and school, in our communities, associations, congregations, and neighborhoods. In other words, it’s a matter of leading and living by the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When was the last time you acted neighborly? Why not do so today?
  2. To act Neighborly • the first principle of nice • requires the second: we have to be Interested. Whether it’s at work or home, with colleagues, neighbors or friends, being interested in other people will make you much more attractive and successful. The more we take an interest in the experiences, welfare, and accomplishments of others, the more likely it is that they will take an interest in us. What goes around comes around, and that’s especially true when we are genuinely interested in what other people are saying and doing.
  3. There’s no way to be nice without feeling connected and compassionate to others. Without a sense of connection we’re part of the problem rather than the solution. That’s what the “C” stands for in N-I-C-E. Feel Connected. As long as we feel separate, superior, disconnected, intimidated, and frightened by others, we cannot and will not be nice. Once we feel connected, we can often find new ways of making a real difference in the world.
  4. Etiquette has gotten a bad name in this day and age. Who has time for etiquette? We grab our fast food and claw our way to the top without much concern for social graces. That’s no way to be nice! Yet the “E” in N-I-C-E stands for Etiquette because etiquette benefits one and all with the gift of a wonderful life. And etiquette is a choice. We’re not born with social graces. We learn them and choose to use them. If you want to make a mark in the world, then it helps to employ etiquette.

Nine years later those four principles are still relevant and manage to speak volumes. Whether you lead or work in an organization, be that an employer, a team, or a voluntary association, then you will get a lot further if you act Neighborly, show Interest, feel Connected, and employ Etiquette.

Such attributes are the key to what is sometimes called “servant-leadership.” Instead of serving our egos, such leadership serves our people as it serves the cause. Nice matters when it comes to leadership not just because it feels good but because it gets things done. When leaders set the pace as to how we treat our people, there’s no limit to the aspirations and possibilities we may discover together.

Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your leadership style? Is it nice or nasty? How would your people describe your leadership style? What does it take to hold people accountable and yet to be respectful and nice at all times? How does that look? What would help you to better hold that tension in your own life and work?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

It is absolutely amazing how relevant your Provisions are to the challenges I face in the workplace. Although I don’t have time to read them all, I save them as they come in and I often have the experience of reading one only to discover that you are addressing the very thing we are dealing with in the moment. That’s when I forward it to all my staff or print it out to share at a meeting. Thanks so much for this incredible treasure.

I have no idea how you come up with this stuff. It is consistently high quality, week after week. Thanks so much for all the ways in which you share yourself with the world.

You don’t advertise your coaching in terms of time management, but you must be really good at that. I can’t believe all the stuff you are involved with and stay on top of. The world, or at least my world, benefits greatly from the energy and effectiveness you bring to all the tasks you do. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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