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I was alone in what had been our petroleum marketing headquarters in the penthouse of a high-rise building in downtown Houston. It was getting dark outside, and only the muted sound of Christmas music broke the silence. Our once-busy offices were eerily empty, and there was no one left to talk to. The start-up excitement that used to fill the air was gone.

We had been acquired, and I had been told that I might have a job, not yet specified, if I moved our young family 1,200 miles to an oil company headquarters in a northern state. In the meantime, my assignment was to clear everything out, terminate the lease and close this office by the end of the year. It was depressing, to say the least.

Then, unexpectedly, the phone rang. It was Johnny, an executive who had been designated as the primary liaison with us newly acquired personnel, several hundred of whom were manning a refinery that had just gone on stream in an adjacent state. The telephone conversation with Johnny was pleasant, and when I hung up I felt better about the situation. A lot better.

Having once been on the other side, I had expected representatives of the new company to act like victors who were suspicious of us strangers and mainly interested in the spoils. Yes, there was some of that, but this transition proved to be surprisingly successful because of the way people were handled. But it could have been different.

Johnny was the reason that it went so well. Although he had been delegated almost unlimited authority by his CEO, he was a nice guy who was not interested in acting tough or playing games. He just wanted to get the integration done as smoothly as possible.

Johnny was no pushover-he could be firm when necessary-but as time went on, we learned to like and respect him. He was open, friendly, considerate, good-natured and understanding. And he listened to us. Even after we had assumed our new positions and everything was done, we still liked the guy. He was, to us, one of the most respected executives in the new company.

When I thought about this later, I became even more convinced that its not a weakness to be nice, as some naysayers preach. I have known a number of managers and executives who might have been more successful with their personnel if they had wholeheartedly embraced this simple concept.

If you search the internet, you will notice that some emoters, who must not have enough to do, expend a lot of verbiage trying to convince us that managers should be kind, not nice to their employees. This distinction is ridiculous because those two words mean essentially the same thing when applied to personnel relations in the business world.

Kind or nice, Johnny was also pleasant, courteous, even-tempered and receptive to other peoples ideas-all essential managerial qualities, regardless of how they are labeled. He was a nice guy, and that was why he was successful.

Jack Goodhue, management coach, may be contacted at

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