Why “Nice Guys Finish Last” is Wrong


Is being nice a losing strategy? Are teams better led by fear? Is a mean boss a more effective boss? Jennifer Bridges, PMP, questions the conventional wisdom of the phrase,”Nice guys finish last,” and finds it lacking truth when it comes to leading teams or furthering your career.

Here’s a screenshot of the whiteboard for your reference.

nice guys can finish first

In Review – Why “Nice Guys Finish Last” Is Wrong

Jennifer asked if her viewers really believed that nice guys finish last. If it’s true, they are the mentors, coaches and advisors that you respect mean people? Probably not.

“Nice Guys Finish Last” Meaning Then and Now

Before she dismantled the argument about nice guys, Jennifer looked back to the origin of the phrase. It likely stems from the mid-1940s and an old baseball saying, “Nice guys don’t win pennants.” That saying came about because of the old Giants and Dodgers baseball rivalry, where they thought one had to be mean to win.

The phrase has since transformed and expanded beyond the baseball diamond. Supposedly, nice guys are people pleasers, weak and flexible to a fault. Nice guys can be perceived as those who are trying to make people happy, rather than work towards the shared goal of driving and executing a project to a successful end. They try to fit in, often by avoiding tough decisions or making bad ones. Because of these shortcomings, some say that nice guys finish last.

But What Does Nice Really Mean?

Nice people are pleasant in their manner, good-natured and kind. They are not weak, fragile, indecisive or unsuccessful. Nice is not a bad trait; you can be nice and still be strong, confident and courageous.

Being nice doesn’t mean one lacks the ability to say no, be assertive or make tough decisions, all of which are essential for leading a successful project. It just means that you’re not a jerk about it, like many bad bosses out there.

What Leads to Success?

So, if nice guys aren’t suckers, are the leaders who can successfully manage a project? Yes, because the truth is, success is a mixture of talent, skills, behaviors and actions.

Jennifer noted an article she read in Forbes that argued it was bad career advice to suggest that nice guys finish last. Being nice doesn’t slow a person down as if success was a race. Business is not about winning a race; it’s about teamwork and getting everyone across the line. To that effort, niceness is an investment that pays off as no one makes it alone. At some point, you’ll need support, too. Give it and take it.

Pro-Tip: If “seduction is always more effective than coercion,” as political scientist Joseph Nye suggested, then being nice can be a tool for leadership and even conflict resolution, which is a big part of running a successful project. Nice guys know about soft power negotiations, and if you don’t, you should, too.

Thanks for watching!


Today, we’re talking about why “Nice guys finish last” is wrong. Well, some people who are leading teams struggle with: Are they being too nice? Or are they being too mean?

But if we look at some of the mentors, coaches, advisers that we admire most, they’re nice. And I would submit that sometimes people who use this phrase sometimes use it as an excuse because they do feel like they’re nice and they finish last. But let me show you where this concept is wrong.

Well, first of all, where did this even originate? It didn’t really originate in business. It’s thought that possibly in 1946, it was first mentioned in baseball. And the phrase was, “Nice guys don’t win pennants.” It was about finishing last in the baseball rankings. And it was in relation to the Giants’ and Dodgers’ rivalry.

So what does this mean today? Well, today, it infers that nice guys are people-pleasers, they’re flexible at a fault, they’re weak, and they try to make people happy, and they try to fit in. Therefore, tends to have them avoid tough decisions and making bad ones.

But let’s look at what the word “nice” really is. It’s pleasant in manner, good-natured, and kind. It’s not weak, fragile, indecisive, or unsuccessful. You can be nice and be strong, confident, courageous, and have the ability to say no, be assertive, make tough decisions, and make good ones. It can also mean you are and can be successful.

When we think about finishing first, being successful, and winning, it’s not really about being nice or mean. It takes talent. It takes skills, behaviors, and certain actions.

Forbes has an article and it talks about…it’s actually bad career advice to suggest that nice guys finish last. Here’s why. Goodness doesn’t slow people down. So being good or nice doesn’t slow them down. And business is not about you winning a race. It’s about teamwork and getting everyone across the line. Niceness is actually an investment that pays off as no one makes it alone, and at some point, you will need support.

So if you need additional resources and information, then visit our website at ProjectManager.

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