There’s a folk artist in New Orleans whose work decorates a plethora of that city’s famous eateries, like Jacques Imo’s and Willie Mae’s Scotch House. The artist calls himself Dr. Bob, and his art frequently carries this hand-painted message: “Be Nice or Leave.’’

That’s a great message from an establishment to its customers, and an even better message for leaders. Being nice isn’t just, well, a nice thing to be, it’s an important thing for the success of your business.

In our experience working with hundreds of leaders and thousands of workers, we’ve found that leaders can only achieve the biggest, best, breakthrough results when they care about how their people fare in the business.

Creating Product X or getting Product Y to market 10 months faster — or any other bold initiative — will only succeed when leaders inspire their people. And inspiration involves motivation. What do people want? What will make them feel involved in the business and breakthrough results feel like they are achieving their own ambitions while the company achieves its goals? When leaders address those kinds of questions during their quest to lead a company or division forward, they’re making people happy because they’re being nice.

It’s not about popularity

Don’t get confused: Being liked, personally, isn’t the key issue here. In fact, leaders who focus on personal popularity over breakthrough results may get a short-term boost of popularity, but they won’t truly be leading. The easiest way to be personally liked is to give workers exactly what they expect, to reinforce the roles they already know, or to stick with the status quo.

That can be a trap. True, it’s nice to give people work they already know they can handle. But in the long run, it’s better to create a culture of change. That may make people uncomfortable. Change is never easy, and that may not seem nice. But creating an environment that challenges and inspires people, rather than pandering to them through the status quo, will give them more chance for growth, and more happiness in the long run.

So, leaders, be bold. And be nice.

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