Can a Leader Be “Too Nice”?

by Gordon Krater on April 8, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, Sandy Pierce, Chairman and CEO of FirstMerit MI, and I were honored as “business leaders of the year” by the Harvard Business School Club of Michigan—a very humbling experience. We were both asked to talk a bit about leadership and how we developed into our current roles. Sandy—who is an incredible leader, both within FirstMerit and the community—talked about starting out in the banking industry and how, time and again, she was discouraged from proceeding because she was just “too nice.” Those words ignited a determination within her to prove people wrong—not to change who she was or how she approached leadership, but to prove to her detractors that nice people could succeed in business.

I, too, have faced concerns of being “too nice” from time to time. Most recently, it occurred during the assessment process prior to becoming managing partner at Plante Moran. My test results revealed my inherent optimism and tendency to believe in people to the nth degree. “You’re so nice,” cautioned a fellow partner. “My one concern is whether you’ll be able to give constructive feedback the way the position requires.”

I’ve always been a Theory Y guy. I believe that, given the chance to do the right thing, staff will come through the vast majority of the time. I believe that the satisfaction of doing a good job is strong motivation and that, given the proper conditions, most people will seek out and accept responsibility in an effort to truly make a difference.* Because I feel this way, it’s natural for me to give the kind of constructive feedback my job demands. It’s what you do if you truly care about people and want them to succeed. In fact, failing to do so would be the opposite of being “nice.” As we’ve always said at Plante Moran, “Candor is kindness.”

Who else has faced this strange criticism? Is being nice a detriment in business? Or is it an advantage, resulting in a dedicated workforce? I know what I think, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*This is in contrast to Theory X, which believes people are inherently lazy and unhappy at work and that it’s important to micromanage staff to get the results you need. These theories of motivation were developed by Douglas McGregror at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1960s.


Are You a Great Multitasker? Not so Fast…

by Gordon Krater on March 23, 2015

At Plante Moran, we have a number of training courses we provide to staff. One of them is on time management and offers a number of great tips like:

  • Prioritize your to-do list.
  • Eat that frog. (Do the hardest, least fun thing first. Just get it over with!)
  • If a task takes less than five minutes, do it right away. If it takes longer, put it on the list.

It also covers multitasking. Now, most people think they’re excellent multitaskers. (I used to, too.)  So when Laurence Vanden Boom, one of our learning consultants, proclaims to our staff that “There’s no such thing as multitasking,” it starts a fairly spirited discussion—until he puts our staff through the following exercise.

Get yourself a sheet of paper and a pen. Divide the paper in half. On the top half of the paper, determine how long it takes you to list all numbers between 1 and 20 in one row and write “I am a great multitasker” in a row beneath it. Once you have your time (using a stop watch, cell phone, etc.), jot it down. I think the most recent time at Plante Moran was around 20 seconds.

With me so far? Great. Now we move on to the second half of the paper. This time, you’re going to alternate between numbers and letters. So you’ll want to write “1,” “I,” “2,” “a,” 3,” “m” etc. until you once again have one row of the numbers 1 through 20 and one row touting what a great multitasker you are.

I’m betting it takes you about twice as long as it did the first time.

This is a very powerful illustration of why it may be a good idea to focus your time and energy on a single task prior to moving on to the next one. It may feel like you’re being extremely productive while multitasking, but odds are, you could be that much more productive by focusing your energy and avoiding distractions.

So what do you think? Still consider yourself a great multitasker? Any tips for how to avoid it in favor of a more focused approach?

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Do You Have an Enviable Culture?

March 6, 2015

FORTUNE magazine has announced its list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” and for the 17th year in a row, Plante Moran made the list. We’re beyond thrilled and honored to be listed among so many amazing companies. Thanks to FORTUNE and a variety of regional “best place to work” awards, we’ve become known […]

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The Joy of Giving

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Several years ago, we formed Plante Moran Cares as a way to encourage staff to rally around a particular cause and donate time, treasure, and talent to those in need. This year, we approached things a little differently; we asked each office to select the charity it would support. Staff nominated the causes that were […]

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For IBM Watson, It’s All Elementary

February 2, 2015

It beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in the 1990s. In 2011, it bested all-time winningest Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter (even if it did think Toronto was a city in the United States). Today, IBM Watson is using its cognitive computer powers in business for everything from determining which of a company’s […]

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

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Although no one knows for sure where the phrase originated, its best-known use was by Sir Isaac Newton in a letter to his rival, Robert Hooke: “What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much….If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Last month, we […]

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Work-Life Balance: One Cure for the Winter Doldrums

January 5, 2015

January can be a rough month. The excitement of the holidays is over, there are all those New Year’s resolutions to contend with, and the sun rarely seems to shine. Moreover, unless you work for the government, your next paid holiday is Memorial Day. It can be easy for the winter doldrums to set in. […]

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It’s a Small World After All

December 22, 2014

Several years ago, we formalized our charitable giving efforts and formed Plante Moran Cares. Each year, staff rally around a particular cause and give time, treasure, and talent to assist those in need. But that’s not the only way we give back to our communities; we also serve on a variety of nonprofit boards and […]

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Move Over, Culture. Make Room for Innovation.

December 8, 2014

On December 5, Plante Moran held a webinar to discuss the link between innovation and culture. Although we briefly summarized the results of our 2014 Innovation Report, most of the webinar focused on how to create a culture of innovation and actionable tips to help organizations become more innovative, courtesy of our three panelists: Xiao […]

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This Thanksgiving, I’m Thankful for Stewardship

November 24, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with Vince Selasky, a staff member who, over nearly 20 years at Plante Moran, has progressed from working in our facilities department to managing our webinars and video needs as part of the firm’s marketing department. We were talking about his upcoming Plante Moran-niversary, and I asked […]

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