This case study begins with Paul Kennedy on a slow morning commute in Cleveland. During his drive, he’s worried about his wife and family, his boss, his associate, a stranger in a nearby vehicle, and even about the state of the Cleveland Browns. He is also excited about his plans to expand Daner Associates into the European market and his impending promotion to CEO. But when Paul meets with his boss, Larry, that afternoon, he discovers that he has been misreading signals.
Larry is actually considering Paul for the number two role in the company and considering promoting another Daner executive, George, into the CEO position. Background Paul has been with Daner Associates for ten years. He believes that he is being groomed for to take over the CEO position when Larry retires. Thus, Paul is understandably shocked when he discovers that Larry thinks of him as the number two guy, and is considering promoting George to CEO instead. Paul thinks that George lacks the polish and experience to be effective in the CEO position.
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Paul needs to demonstrate to Larry that he has what it takes to be the next CEO: A strong leader with effective communication, people relationship and management skills.
Analysis and Issues
Paul does not have to become a complete jerk, like George, to get the CEO position. He does, however, need to do a thorough self-assessment to identify his strengths and weaknesses, chose a path that is in his own best interest, then clearly and consistently state his personal and managerial views. Paul has clear advantages over his rival, George, in terms of experience and length of time with the company. His employees like him and trust him to lead them. He possesses most of the elements of an effective CEO, but Larry thinks that Paul is too nice to be effective as CEO. Paul needs to exploit the advantages he has and stop letting his niceness get in the way of his own business success. If Paul wants the top job, he needs to prove that he can be effective in managing his relationships with others, including his relationship with Larry, where he has allowed communications to break down to where he and Larry were on completely different wavelengths on his promotion to CEO.
In his interactions with Larry, it seems that Paul has been hearing only what he wants to hear. Paul has apparently misread Larry’s intentions, resulting in misaligned expectations. Paul and Larry have very different leadership styles and attitudes on people management. This disparity in their styles is a core part of their communications issues. Paul’s self-referent criteria have prevented him from effectively listening to what Larry has been telling him about his leadership skills and potential to be promoted to CEO.
It seems that George has an advantage over Paul in being able to relate easily to Larry. Larry and George have a similar philosophy on people management, which gives George an advantage on effective communications with Larry. Larry immediately empathizes with George’s perspective, because it is similar to his own. This puts the onus on Paul to get outside of his own frame of reference to examine himself from Larry’s perspective. The nice-guy disorder is having a negative effect on Paul’s ability to make choices.
His decision-making ability is impaired when he gives away his power to others, including George and Larry, denying his own goals and desires. When he feels strongly about an issue, as he does in the case of breaking into the biotech industry, he needs to build his case, avoid the analysis paralysis that comes with over-analyzing the data, and present his case with confidence and the good judgment that has come with ten years of experience. It is that type of conviction in his ideas and opinions that will earn respect from both Larry and George.
Paul prefers to hold back his opinions rather than speaking his mind in many situations to avoid confrontations. Overly nice guys, like Paul, tend to avoid situations where they disagree with someone or need to confront someone about poor job performance. Paul chooses to remain silent on issues in order to avoid judgment or spare the feelings of others. Paul allows his concern for others to lead him to prioritize their needs over his own work responsibilities and career. He also has a tendency to look the other way when managerial issues arise, as they have with his associate, Lisa. Because he wants to be a nice guy, and he feels bad about Lisa’s personal situation, Paul has been excessively lenient with her and continues to avoid confronting her about the decline in her work performance. Speaking his mind consistently and effectively will be one of the most challenging skills Paul will have to master.
In order to be an effective leader and CEO, Paul needs to become much more self-aware. Like many “nice guys,” Paul does not have a high level of self-awareness, which thwarts his ability to reach higher levels of effectiveness. He must become aware of how his choices are holding him back. He needs to develop an honest self-awareness that will enable him to deal constructively with his weaknesses and fully benefit from his strengths. Since Larry has been Paul’s boss for ten years, he probably knows Paul’s strengths and weaknesses better than Paul knows himself. Paul needs to muster up the confidence to ask Larry for his constructive criticism. In this way, Paul will tap into Larry’s insight to help identify and minimize his weaknesses and identify and employ his strengths in order to maximize his effectiveness as a leader.
Paul needs to drop his defensive attitude in order to hear and really listen to Larry’s advice, understand it as he never has before, and then take immediate action on that on that advice. Paul needs to start thinking of confrontation as an effective communication tool that will enable him to solve problems as quickly as possible. He must realize that his leniency with Lisa has reached a point where it compromises his ability to deliver on his business commitments. His reticence to speak frankly with her to resolve the work issues is ultimately harming both of them. Paul needs to address the issues in an honest and open conversation with Lisa; otherwise her work may continue to suffer, leaving him with only unpleasant options for dealing with it.
Paul has become overly focused on trying to be helpful and nice to others, resulting in an imbalance that has diminished his effectiveness as a leader. When Larry told him that he was not the first choice for CEO, presenting Paul with the evidence that things were not going as he thought, Paul continued to look externally to blame George for the misunderstanding.
Paul needs to take a good, hard look inward to grasp an understanding of the connection between his nice-guy behavior and its negative consequences, and then accept that he must alter those behaviors in order to achieve his business success targets. As he becomes aware of his shortcomings, he will be able to find ways to eliminate them through training, mentoring, and by surrounding himself with people who have complementary skills. While identifying and minimizing his weaknesses through self discovery, Paul also needs to identify and emphasize his strengths. He cannot allow his nice-guy, self-sacrificing tendencies to lead him down the path to a job that is not in alignment with his talents and goals. Essentially, Paul needs to find a balance between his natural tendency toward niceness and an appropriate level of assertiveness.
- Edelman, R. C. , Hiltabiddle, T. R. , & Manz, C. C. (2008). Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office: Eight Strategies for Winning in Business Without Being a JERK. New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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