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Not nice guys, but cowards, finish last

By Robert Kiyosaki, Special to CNN
  • Robert Kiyosaki says mentor is brutally direct in assessing Kiyosaki's business failings
  • But, he says, he was right. Now, a new study finds nice guys make less money
  • He says bluntness may not seem nice, but it is. Mincing words is cowardly, not kind
  • Kiyosaki: Rich are willing to risk speaking truth. Result is often success. And that's nice

Editor's note: Robert Kiyosaki is the author of the personal finance book "Rich Dad, Poor Dad." He is an entrepreneur, educator and investor who believes the world needs more entrepreneurs.

(CNN) -- I remember sitting down in front of my rich dad to show him the financials for my nylon and Velcro wallet business. I was 32 years old and the business had taken off quicker than I'd ever imagined. I had more than 380 independent sales reps. Sales were soaring, and our product was in demand.

I was also young, inexperienced and running the company into the ground.

As my rich dad studied the company's financial statement, I sat nervously, knowing that things weren't good. I should explain here that the man I refer to as "rich dad" was my best friend Mike's father and the man who would not only become my mentor but serve as a counterpoint to my real dad, whom I refer to as "poor dad." Having two "dads" taught me that there are always two points of view ... in the world of money and in life. Rich dad made his fortune in real estate, and his investments made him one of the richest men in Hawaii.

But on this day, he was studying my own performance in business. After what seemed like an eternity, he looked up and said, "Your company has cancer, and I'm afraid it's terminal. You've mismanaged what could have been a rich and powerful company. You don't know what you're doing, and worst of all you don't have the guts to admit it. You're incompetent, a bad businessman and you're either a crook or a clown. I hope you're just a clown."

He knew I was in danger of not paying my employees because my accounts receivable were more than 90 days old. It affected my cash flow and I had a choice to make: use the money I needed for payroll to pay bills and keep the company afloat or pay my employees and close up shop.

I'm reminded of this story tonight as I read about a new study: "Do Nice Guys -- and Gals -- Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income," by Timothy A. Judge of the University of Notre Dame, Beth A. Livingston of Cornell University and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario. It was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers found, in part, that "agreeableness is negatively related to income and earnings," that nice guys "take a hit for being highly agreeable," and that this translates into lower earnings.

Essentially, the study found that people in the business world who are "nice" make less than people who are "mean."

Let's ask ourselves, "What do they mean by 'nice'?"

My rich dad was not a "nice" man by many people's standards. Some would call him mean, but I'd call him principled and strong. And he was successful.

He showed me that he cared enough about me to speak the truth plainly and challenge me to be a better man. He didn't mince words and was often harsh, but I knew he cared for me like a son.

Strength and compassion are not mutually exclusive. I believe that one key to success is to accept truth, no matter how it's spoken. If he hadn't been so harsh with me decades ago, it's likely I'd have become just another failed businessman -- and possibly even a crook, instead of just a clown.

I've received much feedback in my life from many different types of people. The old adage, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it," is an appropriate reference here. While I don't condone mincing words or dancing around issues, I do believe that all of us are capable of showing respect and empathy for those with whom we work. If that is the foundation for feedback, even the strongest and most critical of assessments can be delivered with respect and consideration.

Say it like it is ... but don't take joy in skewering someone or engaging in what might border on personal attacks.

The world is full of people who make excuses, people who are cowards and people who use the term "nice" to cover up their inability to make a hard decision, say what needs to be said or defend themselves, their position or other people because they're afraid of how they'll be viewed or that someone won't like them anymore.

This is cowardly.

In my experience, many people confuse being cowardly with being nice. It's easier to aim to please and say what others want to hear than to form an opinion and fight for it, even if it means taking a risk or losing your job.

And that's the real issue: the employee mind set. It's drilled into us from childhood. Schools teach children to be compliant, to do as they're told, to be good employees -- or face the consequences. Those who question the system are usually considered "problem" children. Those who think for themselves, who challenge and question, are labeled "deviants." From a young age we're taught to please people. That, it's believed, is what makes you a good or nice person.

The rich are willing to take risks, question the status quo and say what needs to be said, even if it's hard to hear -- and hard to say. Many people view this as mean, but I believe it's the exact opposite. It's a kindness to speak honestly and say what you feel is right. Only cowards let fear keep them from making tough decisions.

I'm convinced that among the keys to success, in business and in life, are truthfulness, the ability to take -- and give -- honest and well-intended feedback, strength of character and conviction in one's principles.

And that's not mean. That's nice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert Kiyosaki.