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Must Leaders Be Nice to Succeed?

Barney Frank, the outspoken Congressman from Massachusetts, has resigned after three decades as a legislator. Even his allies say his abrasive manner stood in the way of reform.

What’s the Latest Development?

The retirement of Congressman Barney Frank, an outspoken Democrat from Massachusetts, provides an opportunity to reflect on the nature of effective leadership. While Frank fought intelligently and loudly for his causes, even some allies say his abrasive nature prevented him from achieving certain goals. “In today’s bare-knuckles game of business and politics, does a brash style really hurt your career? Put more simply: Must leaders be nice to be noteworthy?”

What’s the Big Idea?

Another topical, and telling, case study is Steve Jobs. Was the famously cantankerous boss a success because of his bristles or in spite of them? “In a world in which extreme attention to detail is needed—like, say, technology development—or when there’s a real need for motivation, there could be some virtues to having a controlling jerk in the top chair.” But when it comes to building relationships, which are good for making the kinds of compromises politics needs to succeed, nastiness makes accomplishment more difficult.


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