Nice Guys Are Good for Business

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

Back in 2005 I wrote Who Says Nice Guys Finish Last? The post recounted how attorneys have generated more business by putting their focus on helping others, even in ways that have nothing to do with the law. It also discussed the psychological underpinning of their success.

In the wake of the financial meltdown, there is growing evidence (cited by Time magazine, Fortune magazine and Harvard Business Review) that the “do well by doing good” philosophy is gaining a foothold in the corporate world. Maybe we are getting beyond the Gordon Gekko/ Ivan Boesky philosphy that “greed is good.” I hope more of our legal colleagues take note, too.

At least one Harvard Law grad is leading the way. Dov Seidman, author of the bestseller HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything … in Business (and in Life) opines that “winner-take-all” strategies are obsolete. He partially credits the increased difficulty in hiding unethical and greedy business behavior in this era of bloggers, YouTube, Twitter and other social media.

Fortune Magazine recently published Why Doing Good Is Good for Business about Seidman’s rise as a management guru from providing training in ethics and legal compliance. The Fortune article says he
promotes the theory that “companies that ‘outbehave’ their competitors ethically will also tend to outperform them financially.” He has a lot of Fortune 500 companies listening. And for good reason. By way of example, Time magazine reports that consumers are entering a “responsibility revolution” and nearly 40% of poll respondents said they purchased a product in 2009 because they liked the social or political values of the company that produced it.

A recent Harvard Business Review article, Indian Companies: Doing Well Because They Do Good, highlights companies in India who are succeeding by combining social missions with their telecommunications, pharmaceutical and financial services businesses. Their missions motivate employees to be more productive and they create more goodwill with customers, which translates into profits.

What does this mean for a law practice? It means there is a tonic for the malaise so many lawyers feel today, which can do double duty in also reviving firm financials. By aligning your practice with a social or charitable cause you care about, you can bring meaning and purpose back into your work. You can also generate visibility and goodwill with clients and consumers who hunger to see more good guys in the business world today. Differentiate yourself and your firm from your competitors by behaving counter to the public perception of lawyers.

If you don’t know where to start, read my post It’s All for a Good Cause. Take a cue from the Indian companies in the Harvard Business Review article. Follow in the footsteps of the Nice Guy lawyers I wrote about. Or just make it a point to treat everyone you meet, even that uncivil opposing counsel, with kindness and respect. As you change your focus, the right path for you will become clear.

How about sharing your stories below about times when being a Nice Guy (including one of the female gender) brought you business and fulfillment in your law practice?


2 Responses to “Nice Guys Are Good for Business”

  1. Tim Baran on March 16th, 2010 11:16 am

    I couldn’t agree more! Nice guys don’t finish last. Of course nice doesn’t mean being a pushover. It means that you allow kindness and thoughtfulness govern your actions.

    Hadn’t read the piece about blogging and social media making it more difficult to hide unethical and greedy business behavior, but agree and love that it does and that we are doing our part!

    I appreciate the message of your piece, that all should be treated with kindness and respect. The legal profession would do well to heed the advice. I think it may be doing so.

  2. Susan Cartier Liebel on March 16th, 2010 12:40 pm

    I wholly support this philosophy. Doing well by doing good is an emotionally sustainable way of doing business because it keeps one going, too, with a greater purpose even in the face of those dreaded dips professionally and financially.

    Bob Burg who writes the Go Giver and the Go Giver Sells More tells this story in the tradition of the great parable that life should always be ‘how can I help you’ first. Without fail, the more you do and give to others without expectation of return, the more return you invariably get. Life is not and should not be a 50/50 proposition. That’s not boundless success. That’s tit for tat. The true winners are those who gladly share their influence for the betterment of others and in return better themselves not just financially…but more important, emotionally.

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