If asked to describe the traits of an effective CEO, most people would probably use adjectives such as driven, competitive, and tough. While it's clear that some hard-nosed CEOs, like Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwartzman (see the chapter opener), are successful, recently some authors have suggested that being "nice" is really important in today's workplace, even in the CEO suite. In a recent book titled The No A-hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn % Stanford management professor Robert Sutton argues that getting along well with others is important to the successful functioning of organizations.
Many companies, such as Google, have developed policies to weed out those who habitually behave in an uncivil manner. Lars Dalgaard, CEO of Success Factors, a business software company, identifies himself as a recovering Fortune 500 "ahole." Now, Dalgaard has implemented a strict "no ahole" rule in his company. Job interviews are lengthy and feature probing questions designed to uncover any browbeating tendencies. Last year, Dalgaard took candidates vying for a chief financial officer vacancy to lunch at a local restaurant to see how they treated the wait staff. Some got a free lunch but nothing more. When managers and employees are hired, they get a welcome letter from Dalgaard that spells out 15 corporate values, the last of which is "I will not be an ahole."
Although it's not clear whether they've read Sutton's book, some CEOs of Fortune 500 companies do seem to project the image of a "kinder, gentler CEO." Let's consider three examples, all of whom were proteges of Jack Welch when he was CEO of General Electric (GE) and were candidates to be his successor: Bob Nardelli, James McNerney, and Jeff Immelt.
Bob Nardelli, former CEO, Home Depot
When Bob Nardelli wasn't chosen to be CEO of GE, he demanded to know why. Didn't he have the best numbers? His bitterness was palpable, say GE insiders. When... [continues]
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