The Power of Nice at the Executive Suite

by Robin Koval, Linda Kaplan Thaler & Wednesday, July 18, 2007

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“Work hard. Be Nice.”

This is the motto that Jun Haraguchi, the president and CEO of Konica Minolta’s Business Solutions U.S.A. unit, repeats to himself each day.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, he also practices it. Haraguchi got the “be nice” mantra from a KIPP charter school based in New Orleans who uses this motto in every aspect of their educational practices. Inspired by their credo, Haraguchi had his unit sponsor a fund raiser for the creative-arts school in an effort to build his own company’s morale.

Haraguchi also goes out of his way to let his employees know that he is approachable, even if it means looking a bit silly sometimes. During company-sponsored concerts, he has taken to the stage with Winona Judd and the Marshall Tucker Band, often playing a guitar, ukulele or harmonica. And though he is very serious about his business and often works 12-hours days, he understands the lasting power of a good joke. "We need people who are willing to work harder than ever. But to create an environment where people are willing to work hard, work has to be fun,” he told the Journal.

Haraguchi’s excellent instincts are backed by research. Psychologist Daniel Goleman, best known for his ground-breaking book Emotional Intelligence, says that fostering a sense of fun and happiness at the office is good for the bottom line. “Feeling good lubricates mental efficiency, making people better at understanding information and using decision rules in complex judgments,” he writes in Primal Leadership. Goleman also found that leaders who were considered outstanding (based on financial performance and ratings by peers and bosses) tended to make three times more witty remarks than executives with average ratings.

So if at the next office party, the boss suddenly picks up a microphone and starts crooning “Under the Boardwalk,” don’t be alarmed. Beneath that silly exterior lies a very smart businessperson.