“Nice-Guy” Factor Fosters Commitment
by Dr. Karen Otazo
“The Truth about Managing Your Career and Nothing but the Truth”
When Lyndon B. Johnson was in the US senate he used
to tell mentors like Sam Rayburn and Franklin Roosevelt, “You’re
just like a daddy to me.” In his homey Texas way LBJ
associated himself with a “feel good factor:” because his mentors
felt good about themselves when they were with him, they felt good
about him too. It’s as simple as that.
I call this behavior “paying homage”. This may
sound a rather antiquated concept – the type of thing people do to
kings and queens and in history books. However, it is important to
realize that today’s business office is no less full of hierarchies
and allegiances than the courts of yesteryear, and it is in your
interest to observe and respect these. In the contemporary
workplace, that’s not just about attending to those above you, but
treating your colleagues and those who report to you with respect
Paying homage is not about being insincere or a
sycophant, but about making others feel good about themselves and
what they do for you, whether they are a boss or an employee, and
their associating that feeling with you. It’s telling people
how they helped you or the business, paying careful attention to
someone’s point of view, or simply thanking people sincerely for
services rendered. It’s an important skill for everyone, whatever
your level in the hierarchy.
Politicians understand how important paying homage
is. Business people can learn a lot from them. My mother once met
John F. Kennedy and never forgot that moment until the day she died.
His focus and listening skills were so amazing that he made her feel
as if she were the only person in the room. Bill Clinton has a
similar reputation. Such ability to really see and hear another
person is exceptional, with others just wanting to follow those who
possess it. When a colleague tells you how much he or she enjoyed
meeting someone that person was probably paying homage, consciously
So how do you become one of those people? Look
for chances to let key contacts know the positives of your
experiences with them, such as when they’ve done a good job, said
something interesting, or supported you in some way. Give specifics
whenever you can so that they know why you think they’re good.
Remembering people’s names and small details about them - such as
holiday destinations – is always appreciated. However, avoid
obsequious behavior by only giving praise or attention where it is
due. For instance, if you have enjoyed a speech you might compliment
the speaker on it. It works best to compliment something
specific like the organization or impact of the speech, rather than
a general compliment.
Paying homage is about making the effort to outwardly
express genuine thoughts and feelings, not faking them. Most people
can spot sycophants. Bear in mind that it’s easier to pay homage in
person than in writing– sometimes a casual comment looks over the
top when written down. Paying homage in small amounts, but often and
irregularly, seems to work best.
To put this into a current context, the political
races, of the three factors that matter the most—issues, party
affiliation, and likeability—only one has consistently predicted
winners: likeability. People not only vote for, they also like to
buy things from, marry, and spend time with people they like. If
people like you, life and work get a whole lot easier.
It’s not about winning the office popularity contest.
Likeable people are just those souls who are comfortable and easy to
be with and who treat others fairly and politely. These character
traits bring down others’ defenses, making them feel comfortable in
your presence in turn, and happy to give you their time and
attention. It’s then easier to get what you want out of them, since
they will be looking for ways to affirm that connection.
Consider two people vying for a promotion. One is
quite young and inexperienced. Friendly and honest, his assets
include a genuine commitment to the well-being of individuals, and a
tendency toward positive thinking. People really enjoy working with
him. The other is an experienced, highly effective manager of large
teams. She is smart, tough, and pedantic and likes to outline the
worst case scenario. Who gets the job? Management may decide that it
will be easier to teach the inexperienced one some management skills
rather than change the interpersonal skills of the more experienced
That younger manager in this example may have had
natural charm, but he was also a canny player. He knew which
workplace behaviors brought others over to his side by making them
feel appreciated and important.
Even if you don’t see yourself as a charismatic or
gregarious type, you can follow his example and up your likeability
simply by making time and space to empathize with others’ needs and
concerns, rather than always seeing the world from your own
perspective. You can make sure that you listen well, and allocate
time for talking one on one with colleagues and junior staff. You
can be careful not to lecture people, or to try to show how smart
you are, and you can keep your words and behavior low-key. It’s
those quiet, subtle but caring and committed behaviors that make the
Other people’s opinions have a big impact upon your
working life. The more you’re liked by others the easier it is to
get their votes, whether you’re a TV performer, a political
candidate or an executive.