The fundamental principle that drives Nice Companies Finish First is the idea that goodness begins at the top. It's difficult for a company to see pervasive goodness if the managers are not modeling the kind of behavior that creates success. Shankman leads with a list of 9 'do-nots', which he calls 'The 9 Warning Signs of a Hopeless Jerk'. The list is a sequence of 'I've seen that before' traits, but maybe the most commonly witnessed is this one:
Know-It-All-Dictator: The top dog doesn't leave room for disagreements out of a sense of personal insecurity, arrogance, or both. The loyalty of the few cronies he or she has is built on fear, and so isn't authentic friendship. [...] This often results in a dulled level of commitment and enthusiasm on the part of other employees and partners who may stop telling the truth, or even start lying just to avoid the boss's wrath.
This list of hopelessly jerky behaviors is a nice starting point. If you're a manager, you'll likely find it impossible not to check your own management style against the list. But that's only the beginning. Shankman follows this with nine chapters that delineate behaviors antonymous to the nine jerky behaviors.
Leading the 'guide' on management behavior is "Enlightened Self-Interest", which Shankman describes as the underpinning of successful leadership:
...the act of doing something that benefits you and your constituents, whoever they may be. It's such a crucial concept because it represents the ultimate combination of human nature and strategic thinking.
Shankman follows this with additional traits, like "Strategic Listening" and another crucial one: "Gives a Damn." The interesting thing about Shankman's list of positive behaviors is that much of what appears to make up a good manager also happens to be worthwhile behavior for any human being, in almost any kind of relationship. And this brings us back to that all-encompassing strategy that defines the future: be good. Of course it takes a lot of experience and deep knowledge of your market in order to lead a company, but equally important are those traits that make a person good. Turn yourself into that kind of manager, and watch all of your staff inject that positivity into every corner of your company.
The point of the book is driven home by what might seem like an unlikely example: the singer Tony Bennett. Shankman shares his experience with Bennett and the impact it's had on his professional career, and then asks, "What to these anecdotes have to do with leadership and success?" But after a brief re-cap of the singer's career, Shankman reminds us of what has been perhaps one of the most important aspects of his success: "Tony Bennett is a nice person." Of course his music is well-loved, but his good character is what has opened the door. Of course, you might be thinking, "Well that's simple enough. Why do I need a book to tell me to be nice?" And maybe you don't. But if it were that simple, why are they still publishing management books?