The $590 Million Powerball Lesson: Why Nice Guys Still Finish Last

Don't want to end up losing out? Ditch these five "nice guy" habits for a competitive edge.
June 07, 2013

Gloria MacKenzie, a 84-year-old woman based in Florida, was the single biggest winner of the Powerball jackpot last week because she said someone was “kind enough” to let her step in front of the line at Publix. As a result, the quick pick lottery ticket destined for the "nice" lady, Mindy Crandell, went to MacKenzie. Though Crandell responded with even more kindness that "things are meant to be for a reason," to most of the general public, it seems like another case where the nice guy finished last.

In small business, there are many times where being "nice" will ensure a company finishes dead last. Here are five reasons you're not winning the race.

1. Settling for sub-par employees. Small-business owners need to be aggressive in searching, finding and hiring the best people. A team is only as strong as its players, and this part of the small-business game is not for the faint of heart. No matter what state the economy is in, there is always a lot of competition for top talent. It is critical for hiring to be part of an owner’s personal mission—it should never be delegated entirely. Interview passionately, relentlessly and always pay above industry compensation. Fighting to win the battle for the best employees is a key requirement to building a profitable company.

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2.  Conceding too quickly. The most successful entrepreneurs are fierce competitors. Channel Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Bill Gates and Larry Ellison. They compete honestly, but intensely. They never give up and play to win. Successful small-business owners think their fair share of the marketplace is 100 percent. They want all the business and are unwilling to concede any profitable customer segment to a fellow competitor. 

3. Not being stubborn enough. Studies suggest that men who are “below average on agreeableness earn roughly 18 percent more than men who are considered nice." Statistically, rude people get more of what they want. At the start, forget about negotiating for a win-win. Set minimum and maximum goals. Aggressively pursue the maximum goal and never quit unless the minimum one is achieved.

4. Feelings of guilt. The small-business owner has to be merciless in firing people who are not profitable for the company after a few months. Too many owners allow poor performers to linger, and they end up hurting the entire team. The "nice guy" behavior of letting them hang on benefits no one since the other employees know who the weakest links are. Never hesitate. Give the appropriate amount of severance and cut them loose even if there is no immediate replacement. This goes for employees who have shown dishonest behavior. Practice a zero tolerance policy of “one strike and you're out."

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5. Not seizing the lead. A small business is never run like a democracy. Some may even call its structure a benevolent dictatorship. While the leader should solicit ideas and feedback from employees and managers, there is only one vote that really counts. Majority doesn't rule at a business. Employees will follow a leader who shows confidence and commitment.

In business, owners who are always nice guys can finish last. Remember that the next time you let someone cut in front of you at the supermarket.

Read more stories about leadership in small business. 

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