Last night I read Jerry Useem’s 6,000-word feature in the June issue of The Atlantic examining a bunch of research that looks into why jerks get ahead and, as the saying goes, “nice guys finish last,” to see if I could glean anything new from a relatively well-worn argument.
The evidence, as you may have guessed, is complex: “Givers”—or “people who share their time, contacts, or know-how without expectation of payback”—often show up at the top of their fields, but they just as often find themselves stuck at the bottom as well, mostly because they’re exploited by “takers” and have “doormat” qualities.
Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, argues that being a giver is not the same as being “nice.” Indeed, the key to avoid being that bottom-rung, doormat giver is to be a “disagreeable giver,” or the kind of person who has everyone’s best interests in mind, but is willing to be tough and challenge others so that everyone succeeds. It seems to me that you don’t really need a study to help you come to this conclusion!
Seven years ago, Ester bought me a Kenneth Parcell figurine for an office gift exchange, if that says anything about the kind of employee she thought I resembled. Grant argues that it is difficult for people to change, but I believe that I’ve been able to transition from a doormat giver early in my career to one who leans more “disagreeable” now. Takers beware.