A Nice Manager Chisum Industries’ management promotion process was a benchmark for providing lateral moves as well as promotion to the next level within the company. With offices, plants, and warehouses located in seven Texas cities, opportunities for the best and brightest were extensive for middle management employees. The process invited candidates to explore goals, strengths, and weaknesses and to recount real-life scenarios and accomplishments. The selection team also visited the worksites of candidates for on-the-job observations and talks with fellow workers before bringing the final candidates to Dallas for interviews. The process offered personal insight and growth opportunities to all candidates for promotion. In March 2011, top management, including Marcus Chisum, Karl Jacobson, Mitch Ivey, Wayne Hughes, and Barbara Kennedy, were midway through a meeting to consider which of four middle management candidates to promote to the top position in the San Antonio office.
Marcus: “Who do we have next?” Barbara: “Harry Creighton.” Scanning the group, Marcus sees a few nods and a shrug. Marcus: “Feedback?” Karl and Wayne, simultaneously: “Great guy.” Karl: “We all know that Harry came into a situation in which that particular location was suffering a drop in performance. Morale was low and there were rumors of layoffs. He came in and calmed employee fears and has done a good job of raising performance levels.” Wayne: “He has a great relationship with employees. As we went around and talked to people, it was obvious that he has developed a level of trust and a vision that workers buy into.” Barbara: “The word that kept coming up among the workers was ‘nice.’” As was his habit during meetings, Mitch leaned back in his chair, tapping his pencil on the table. Initially annoyed by the habit, over time the team had gotten used to the sound. Marcus: “Mitch, your initial reaction to his name was a shrug. What are you thinking?” Mitch: “Just wondering if nice is what we’re looking for here?” The remark was met with laughter. “Tell me, how does a manager achieve an across-the-board reputation as a nice guy? I’ve worked for and with a number of managers during my life. I respected them, thought many of them were fair and up-front in their treatment of us; thought some were jerks who should be canned …” Marcus: “I hope I don’t fall into that last category.” (Laughter) Mitch: “I don’t recall any consensus about a manager being nice.” Karl: “Several people mentioned that Harry always has their back.” Barbara: “I got the impression that Harry covers for them.” Marcus: “Meaning what?” Wayne: “Meaning, giving them some slack when it comes to things like overlooking their weaknesses, a little sloppiness with deadlines or taking time off.” Barbara: “Several mentioned that he’s always willing to … let me look at my notes … ‘Always willing to step in and help out.’ The phrase came up more than a few times and when I pressed them, they didn’t elaborate. But I wondered …” Karl: “ … Is he managing or taking on some of their responsibilities?” Barbara: “Exactly.” Mitch: “It’s bothering me that he comes across as the parent who does his kid’s project for the science fair.” Wayne: “I don’t think it’s that bad, but when you look at him in comparison with the other candidates, it makes me question whether he can take on the tough part of top management. There is nothing distinctive about him or his style.” Karl: “There’s no edge here. No sense of boundaries. Does he want to manage employees or be popular with them? Can he say ‘No’ and mean it?” Barbara: “Does Harry have the capability to walk that fine line that separates leaders; that distinguishes respect versus popularity or encouragement and support over stepping in and helping out?” Marcus: “So, we see some good things about Harry. He has a lot of potential. But we also see that he has not yet reached a level where we can entrust him with this top management position. Our task here, then, is to move on with the selection process, but over the next weeks I would like for us to consider ways to help Harry reach that potential for future opportunities.”
1. What does nice mean to you? Do you think nice is a good trait for leaders or the kiss of death?
2. Is nice related to any concepts in the chapter, such as one of the big five personality dimensions, Myers–Briggs components, or left–right brain dominance? Discuss.
3. If Harry is passed over for promotion, what feedback and advice would you give him about how to improve his leadership skills for possible future promotion?