Grow with Grunder: Nice people don’t finish last


You’ve probably heard the adage that nice people finish last. I think that’s because we assume unkind people around them use them to get ahead. This chain of thought has never sat well with me. I never liked to believe that you had to be mean and nasty to get ahead in life, and in my business, I haven’t observed that to be the case at all.

In fact, I’ve seen the opposite. Owners and leaders who act like ogres have a hard time keeping team members, and the constant turnover weighs down their companies, restricting their growth and success.

I recently stumbled upon an article in Time on this topic. In it, a professor from Wharton Business School observes that there are three types of people within organizations: takers, matchers and givers.

What he found was interesting: Takers were more successful in the short term and less so in the long term. Meanwhile, givers saw the opposite results. In short, nice people may finish last early on, but their generosity and kindness pay off in social capital and lessons learned that make them more successful later on.

This idea jives with what I’ve observed to be true both in my work at Grunder Landscaping Co. (GLC) and in my work as a coach and educator at The Grow Group. There are a few lessons I want to share here as you read this column and prepare to start this year off on the right foot:

Be generous with your time

Clay Mathile took over Iams when it was doing $500,000 in revenue and grew it into a business he was able to sell to P&G in 1999 for $2.3 billion. He was a mentor to me and many in the Dayton community. One of the many things I learned from him was that giving back with your time is one of the best ways to make an impact.

He often reminded me that it was easier to give money than it was to give time but sharing your wisdom was the best way to pay forward what wisdom was shared with you. I think this is true whether you’re volunteering your time at your local food bank or teaching a teammate how to do something new.

Being generous with your time builds stronger connections with the people around you and helps you learn and grow as a landscape professional. It’s a win-win.

Hold yourself accountable

Grow Group Vice President Vince Torchia and I talked about accountability on an episode of our podcast, The Grow Show, in November. Nice people admit when they make mistakes, focus on solutions over placing blame and look for opportunities to recognize the people around them. All of this is part of being accountable.

Look for the opportunity

Nice people are helpful people, too. One of the traits I see in many “helpful” people is they view asks and challenges as opportunities. This is something GLC President and COO Seth Pflum does so well, and it’s one of the many reasons he’s had such a successful career at our company.

When a teammate asks you for help, treat it as an opportunity to either learn something new or share your knowledge. When a challenge presents itself, treat it as an opportunity to prove your skills or find a better way to do a task.

A mindset where you look for opportunities, rather than complain about challenges, will serve you well.

At Grow! 2024 on Feb. 6-8 in Des Moines, Iowa, I’ll do a keynote talk where I’ll share the ways that every landscape pro can be a nicer person and have a more successful career as a result. I think you’ll be impressed by this Midwest town. Every time I visit, I’m blown away by people’s kindness and hospitality.

In addition to main stage sessions like this one, GROW! 2024 includes a tour of RJ Lawn & Landscape for all attendees at no extra cost and breakout sessions on topics ranging from recruiting team members to running snow operations. I hope you’ll join me there: growgroupinc.com/grow-2024.

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