Hollywood and the political class may prefer to tell a different story about corporate America, but in my experience, Michael Wade’s recent U.S. News post on the leadership qualities of CEOs gets it exactly right: Most successful executives aren’t abrasive, mean, or condescending jerks. They exhibit more emotional intelligence than that:
Amiability goes a long way in most organizations and word quickly spreads when someone is rude, arrogant, and uncaring. A serious contender in the office political wars knows it is foolish to make unnecessary enemies. Secretaries, administrative assistants, first-line supervisors, and middle managers can have long memories as well as enormous influence with higher-ranking people who, in turn, can shape employment decisions.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that all CEOs are charmers. Reptilian creatures occasionally slither to the top. They are, however, the exception, and anyone with an ounce of ambition should remember that. Being nice is not only the right thing to do—it is also in one’s self-interest.
Truthfully, most of the abrasive, mean, or condescending jerks I know work in politics, government, or academia. Different incentives, different results.