‘Bad guys don’t always finish first’

This is the message from Joanna Swash, chief executive of Moneypenny, who says the good and respectful leaders of the business world usually emerge stronger in the long-term.

‘Bad guys don’t always finish first’

This is the message from Joanna Swash, chief executive of Moneypenny, who says the good and respectful leaders of the business world usually emerge stronger in the long-term.

Why do nice guys always seem to finish last? This applies to business, love, life, sport, so many things. But is this often repeated statement actually true? For me, it isn’t, especially in the world of business which I experience on a daily basis. Some would say that, as a leader, you can’t always be nice. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and sometimes you won’t be liked by those working close to you – as well as many others.

There is also an old adage which goes: ‘They don’t have to like you. They have to respect you’. But that’s rubbish too. Nice leaders do exist. And nice leaders can finish first. Sometimes you need to be the good guy and sometimes you need to be the bad guy. However, you can always lead with kindness. Take the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ For those who work in this environment, they will experience people who are only interested in winning – and nothing else.

The theory is that you will arrive at your preferred destination quicker through cheating, manipulation and using people who you may never need to mix with again. This may achieve results in the short-term, but what about the long-term.

Looking towards the future, you need reputation, relationships and trust. And if you want people to trust you, you will need to treat them well. This is an alternative strategy that is extremely powerful and also sustainable. Leadership takes many forms and there is always room for the nice guy. It doesn’t mean that you’re a pushover, and it’s certainly not a weakness. Here are some traits a kind leader will normally express.


Nice guys think about how their people wish to work. What is it that motivates them and what inspires them? These leaders focus on the individual, helping them to become the best they can. They acknowledge that staff members have a life outside of the office. They have other responsibilities. Respectful leaders create a safe environment in which their people can excel. And when employees become aware that their boss genuinely cares for them, they will go the extra mile. 

Happy people make the world go round. By focusing on people, it shows that you are trying to understand your workforce. It shows that you value them. Compassion is a key trait for any leader. Productivity will fluctuate and things will often go wrong. But instead of pointing the finger of blame, find out why and ask how you can help. It is all about empowering your people, by creating a sense of responsibility and trust. It is vital to look after your people physically and mentally. You need to create an environment and atmosphere where people actually want to go.

Open and authentic

No one is perfect. Holding your hands up and owning a mistake is just as important as congratulating your people for their successes. Good, responsible communication is so important. In doing so you are being authentic and open. You are demonstrating strength, courage and respect. 

Nice guys lead with openness and authenticity. They do not know everything and that is why they employ specialists. These are people who are skilled experts in a particular subject. Good leaders understand, listen and hear. They give credit where credit is due. In doing so they are valuing their people. They are illustrating confidence in the people they employ. 

Being open and honest in any organisation is important. As a leader you should be able to share your feelings and without any fear. Tell your staff what you know about a topic and what you are planning to do – both short and long term. Explain what this means for people and do it in a manner that your audience will understand. This could cover difficult topics such as restructuring, forced redundancies, or more upbeat subjects such as future opportunities and company growth.

Walk the talk

Do exactly what you say you are going to do. Don’t say one thing and do something else. Never have one rule for one person and another rule for everyone else. Nice guys lead with purpose. They live and breathe the talk. By doing this, their people respect and trust them.

There is always room to be kind. It does not have to replace anything already in your toolbox of leadership. It simply adds value to what you already have. In short, nice guys don’t finish last. By leading with kindness, they will take their team to the next level. This will help to create a powerful, sustainable business model that is equipped to take on the challenges of an ever-evolving business landscape.

Joanna Swash
Joanna Swash

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