Column – Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last?

Published 6:44 pm Friday, September 16, 2022

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Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last?

I once knew a businessman who did well. But others in his profession said this of him. “He leaves money on the table because he’s too nice of a guy. If he were a little more ruthless, he could clean up.”

A friend said this about his boss, a football coach I knew. “He’s a nicer guy than some people would think. Sometimes, I think there are people who take advantage of his goodness. I know for sure some of the assistant coaches do.”

Even a minister I knew was evaluated as being “…too nice for his own good. It gets him run over sometimes.” Can you be too nice? Do nice guys (and girls) really finish last in life in some ways?

Sometime back, I acknowledged this saying. “Nice guys finish last.” It appears to have been coined by former Brooklyn Dodgers manager, Leo Durocher. Leo the Lip was a fiery competitor. He got by as much on the sheer force of his personality as he probably did on his innate baseball smarts. His 1975 autobiography carried the sentence as its title.

A co-worker in a car-related industry approached my brother once for advice. This co-worker had the exact same job as my brother, but my sibling was out producing his peers on staff by 25%. This fellow pulled him aside and said, “OK come on, Jim. Tell me your secret. How do you do so much better than us? What do you know that we don’t know?”

Jim replied, “Well, first of all I keep my word. I won’t lie to people. My customers learn over time that they can trust me. Second, I under-promise so that I can over-deliver. I’d rather not make audacious claims I know I can’t keep, just to get them in. Third, I’m willing to do some extra-mile things that not everyone is willing to do. Oh yeah. One other thing. I communicate clearly and often with them. So they know what’s going on.”

The fellow stood there bewildered. “I don’t think I get it. Come on, man. Give me the secret sauce. So far, all you’re telling me is that you’re a nice guy.” My brother said, “I’m afraid that’s about it. I don’t have anything else that I’m holding back.” The co-worker walked away, shaking his head in confusion.

From the beginning, Truett Cathy designed his popular Chick-fil-A restaurant operation to be closed on Sundays. Especially at first, this was tough to arrange. He passed up on some potential malls and other locations because the owners would not go along with that policy.

His principle was simple. First of all, he was convinced that Sunday was still the Lord’s Day. I share that conviction with him. Second, though, he also believed that his employees deserved a day or two off each week. It was a fairness principle, and that one sacred day would be one of those days off. They have a corporate reputation for, among other things, being nice to their employees.

Decades later, in a speech I heard, his son told the crowd that by their latest annual analysis the company was passing up $216 million in profits by closing that one day per week. By plan, they leave money on the table.

Here is the tough and unpopular truth. Sometimes, nice guys really will finish last. At least by some measurables. I’ve heard Christians here and there try to refute that. But it’s a little silly to try. It’s simply too true to deny.

In Nascar racing, the motto is “If you ain’t cheat’n, you ain’t try’n.” Baseball had the infamous Astros sign-stealing scandal of a few years ago. Other sports occasionally have the latest shortcut come to the surface, including performance-enhancing drugs. Cheaters sometimes win while others who play by the rules lose.

Micah 6:8 reminds us, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Our sacred book is replete with hundreds of calls for us to hold steady in our goodness.

Ethics matter and they test the purity of our faith. Honesty matters, and our daily transactions prove whether we are. Integrity matters, including holding ourselves accountable on what social, economic and political systems we cast our votes for. What you allow to happen, what you vote into being, attests to your own individual faithfulness and goodness.