In The Business World, Can Nice People Finish First?

Those who are mindful of their own values and cling on to them despite all adversity are those that are able to run the marathon and finish it successfully.

Recently, have you taken a stroll in the park? If you have, you must have noticed something quite interesting: the shrubs and trees that line the boulevard, dotted with flowers and fruits of myriad colors, do not seem to be bothered about which of them is more beautiful. They do not concern themselves with which of them has the more fragrant flower, or the sweeter nectar. They are just there, relaxed in their own journey. In the garden of their lives, there seems to be no competition.

However, step outside this calm environment and we are met with a completely different message. It is thrust into us that to be successful we must compete. We must walk the walk and take every single opportunity we get or we’ll be left behind. We are living in a noisy world that screams “do whatever it takes to rise up or you will fail.”

The business world, especially, seems to be filled with stories celebrating this ‘do or die’ attitude. We have heard of the numerous stories about how the world’s largest online retailer Amazon has continuously suppressed its workers’ efforts to better their conditions. In some cases, workers have even reported having to use trash cans as toilets because of tall targets for productivity the company has set, with the aim of generating higher profits. We hear of oil companies and miners devastating the environment and people’s health. We read of the levels of corruption that executives stoop to, in a bid to increase their short-term earnings forecasts.

All of this does make us wonder, how should we be to succeed? Can nice people win? And what does it mean to be nice in a competitive world? Is it a sign of weakness to be kind, considerate and sometimes even slow? Is it possible for the numerous people who don’t constantly raise their hands to answer, get cozy with the bosses and work silently to win? These are very intriguing questions.

All the books and resources we read to guide us toward our North Star sometimes seem inadequate, especially when we are faced with questions that need answers from deep within ourselves. The good news is, the answers do come. And I found answers to these questions when I interviewed Arvind Pani and KK this week.

I met Krishnakumar Natarajan (KK), the executive chairman of Mindtree who is fighting to safeguard his organization from a hostile takeover bid by L&T Infotech. KK was quite calm throughout and exuded serene confidence. I was curious about his positivity. How could he be so unruffled amidst such tensions, I asked him.

“Nobody can take my optimism and confidence, this is in me, a part of me,” he replied. 

Like me, you might think these philosophical statements are easy to speak of but tough to practice. In the last couple of years that I have followed KK, however, he has consistently beamed the same tranquility. From our chat, I learned my optimism and positivity is mine, nobody can take it away from me.

According to KK, what makes his company tick was the high-performance, a high-integrity culture built over the last 20 years and they did not want to give up on that. Their focus on this fine balance of performance, integrity and good corporate governance helped them generate significant value to shareholders, KK said.

The other story was my good friend Arvind Pani, the CEO of a local language technology startup Reverie, recently bought out by Reliance Industries. Arvind is quintessentially nice. He is one of those people my mother used to talk about when I was a child - the neighbor’s son who always did the right thing. The one who’s too good to be true. Arvind has remained the same even as an entrepreneur. He always did the right thing, thought about those around him and was always ready to offer a helping hand.

These stories show that altruism can succeed too. In a world where most of us are taught to remain stoic in any adversity, to not retaliate or stand-up for ourselves, these executives are a shining example of what quiet confidence in the face of extreme odds looks like. Straight-talking people like KK and Arvind tell us that though we may see some people winning sprints with antics, the marathon will be won by people who stay true to their own hearts.

Both KK and Arvind show us that, like the trees in the park, those who focus on what's beautiful and strong about themselves, rather than compare themselves with others are the ones who succeed. Those who are mindful of their own values and cling on to them despite all adversity are those that are able to run the marathon and finish it successfully.

Nice people can finish first, and this week, we see that some of them have.

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