Advancing Your Career: Sometimes You Have to Put the “Nice” You Aside

by / ⠀Career Advice Entrepreneurship / December 2, 2013

The Godfather

The cliche of the cutthroat businessman who wins at all costs has been done and overdone at least since Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice. Our intuition and – hopefully – everything our mothers taught us says that you catch more flies with sugar than you do with vinegar. But the complex world of business isn’t a white hat/black hat, either/or toss-up between Gordon Gekko and the Geico gecko.

In order to succeed, however, you’ll eventually have to put some separation between your career and your emotions. Do nice guys finish last? No, not always, but good businesspeople aren’t nice guys or mean guys – they’re just good businesspeople.

Business Isn’t Personal

After Marlon Brando’s character was shot in The Godfather, his son, played by Al Pacino, famously said while plotting his revenge, “It’s not personal. It’s only business.” Michael Corleone was planning the murder of a police captain to further his family’s criminal empire.

Should you kill cops to get ahead? Most CEOs would probably advise against it. But the point remains, emotions cloud decisions. We’re beings driven by emotion, so it’s difficult, but the best business decisions are made not out of loyalty or fear or anger or jealousy. They’re made with a head that’s been scrubbed of feelings altogether. If that comes off as cold or calculating, good. Most good businesspeople are both of those things.

Lessons Are Valuable

You’re a businessperson, not a philanthropist. The business world is a fairly small fraternity; the likelihood of you knowing – or knowing of – someone who is close to someone with whom you have negative dealings is high. If a deal, or lack thereof, leaves someone holding the short end of the stick, there’s nothing to be ashamed of as long as you didn’t lie or cheat or swindle or steal to make sure it wasn’t you.

In business ,there are winners and losers. At some point, you’ll be both. When you win, you win, and when you lose, you take away an invaluable lesson. When you outfox someone, even if it’s someone you like or someone with whom you have respected mutual friends, you’re winning and he’s learning. If you can justify your actions to the people in between without bending the truth, you’ve done nothing wrong. Only one team can win – and they all know it.

A Winner Necessitates a Loser

In season four of The Wire, ripoff artist Omar Little was robbing drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield. When Stanfield said, “That’s my money,” Little replied, “Money ain’t got no owners. Only spenders.”

Like physical matter in the universe, money cannot be created or destroyed. It only changes hands. The cruel fact – which your inner nice guy must accept – is that for you to gain, someone, somewhere has to lose. Win gracefully, win with dignity, but win. If you can’t handle that fact, you should do something other than business – oh, and you’re on wrong planet, too.

You don’t have to be heartless, but sometimes, you do need to squash the competition in business.

You don’t have to be cruel or cold to be in business. In fact, the guys at the top are often warm, kind human beings – when they’re not at work. When you’re working, you don’t have the luxury of looking out for other people’s feelings. If they’re good at what they do, they won’t be looking out for yours.

Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about careers, the workplace, and social media strategies, such as Facebook recruiting.

About The Author


Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.

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