Imagine there are two people:

  • John is demanding. Aggressive. Focused on results, not feelings. Occasionally deceitful, often manipulative. Yep: Most people think he's a jerk.
  • Joe is polite. Soft spoken. Trustworthy. Generous. Considerate. Yep: Most people think he's a good guy.

Now consider this. Which one is more likely to get ahead? Which one is likely to attain what organizational psychologists call "positions of power"?

When I asked LinkedIn followers that question, the overwhelming majority picked John. Why? Jerks tend to engage in more "dominant-aggressive behavior" to intimidate or manipulate others. Jerks tend to be more political.

We've all watched at least one hard-charging, results-at-all-costs leader rise steadily through the ranks -- regardless of how disagreeable or unpleasant they might be.

So, yeah. Much as trustworthy, generous, and nice people might hate the fact, jerks often win the power and promotion game.

Or not.

According to a decadelong study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, selfish, deceitful, and aggressive individuals are no more likely to attain power than generous, trustworthy, and nice individuals. While being dominant and aggressive can help jerks attain power, that advantage is offset by their inability to get along with others and leverage the power of the people around them.

Not convinced by the research? Mark Cuban -- a clear authority on getting ahead -- agrees. As Cuban says:

Early on in my career, I was like bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. I might curse. I might get mad. I got to the point (where) I wouldn't have wanted to do business with me when I was in my 20s. I had to change. And I did. And it really paid off.

One of the most underrated skills in business right now is being nice. Nice sells.

Jeff Bezos, another clear authority on getting ahead, also agrees.

According to Bezos, "Cleverness is a gift. Kindness is a choice."

Bottom line?

You can still have high expectations. You can still be demanding. You can still be focused on results.

But you can also be nice.You can succeed by choosing to include rather than exclude. You can succeed by building people up instead of tearing them down. You can succeed by giving before you receive. You can succeed by listening more than you speak. You can succeed by shifting the spotlight off yourself and onto others.

You can succeed by being nice.

Just like you can succeed by surrounding yourself with people who are thoughtful and generous and kind.

If only because spending the majority of your time with nice people sounds, in itself, like a fine way to define success.