Somewhere along the line, somebody tried to sell us a bill of goods. Nice guys finish last. Kindness is weakness. If you want to get ahead, you’ve got to be tough (and mean).

I’ve known plenty of successful business leaders who are total jerks. I’m sure you have too. Maybe that’s where the modeling of success = mean, nasty people comes from. The way you get ahead is to make the other guy feel bad. The way to make your business succeed is to crush all perceived obstacles and the hopes and dreams of other people. Or at least, that’s what I used to see.

Lately, though, I’ve seen something very different. I don’t know if this is a worldwide phenomenon or if it’s something that I’ve just created in my own world. Lately, it pays to be nice. The business owners I’m meeting fall into one of two categories: poor and nasty or successful (or soon to be) and gracious. I’m not seeing any crossover.

As an advisor, it makes my life really easy. I’d rather work with successful people who are also nice and respect my time.

This is especially true in Cash Flow Accounting, our virtual bookkeeping service. We began this company about a year and a half ago. And outside of knowing we were going to offer accounting and CFO services, I wasn’t really clear as to our target market. Over time it seemed that we had two groups of people: (1) Business owners just starting out or who had been in business for awhile, but never had a bookkeeping system. (2) Business owners who had bookkeeping already and wanted to add another layer of control and review by having us do bank reconciliations, review accounts and have monthly meetings on the results. (It has become kind of a CFO for a day function)

The problem lies with the first category. If someone is just beginning with a business, there is a lot that they need to know. And face it, it’s always much harder to start anything new in the beginning. That means as an owner you’ve got to be ready to listen to advisors, follow advice and work harder than anyone else on your team.

And some people just don’t want to do that. Recently, we had a client who got mad, I mean REALLY mad at us. I’ve been in business long enough to know that there are times when we will make a mistake. And there are those times when there is a mistake, and then another mistake – it seems almost like every action for a person is cursed. Normally the things are little, like you mailed something without any postage, or you sent the client the wrong copy or something like that hopefully the client has been in business long enough that he’s done the same thing, so he is forgiving.

When that happens, I’ve got nothing to say but, I’m sorry. We double and triple check everything with that client to try to interrupt the pattern as quickly as possible.

With accounting, though, there can be another problem. That happens when the client’s inexperience and feeling of overwhelm turn them into a raving lunatic, without a clue.

In the case of the client who just left (actually I fired the client), she got mad because she got asked questions. There were deposits into her account that we couldn’t tell if they were income or loans. The company was new, and she was feeding it in the beginning. There were checks written to cash or to vendors we didn’t recognize. So we asked questions. That made her really mad. And she seemed to get her days confused. For example, she would ask a question on Friday night or Sat morning by email and then when she didn’t have her answer by Sunday night, send a blistering email.

I’ve experienced that issue with time myself when I work long days 7 days a week and I forget that other people are not working the weekends. So I understand the confusion, but what I can’t understand is the meanness and name-calling.

Of course, the irony is that her rapid-fire and increasingly more abusive emails usually started with something like “I’m really a gentle soul, but…” and ended with quoting a business coach who was coaching her on her business and then trying to apply that lesson to why my business would fail. (My customer service is horrible and so and so says if your customer service is bad, you’ll be out of business soon.) It helps me sleep at night knowing that she’s never had a successful business and I’m in my 22nd year with successful businesses (and some that weren’t).

In the end, I just fired her. Somehow she stayed on our email list, though, and she had gotten used to attending our twice monthly free webinars. So, when the last one occurred, she sent a note saying the webinar was good, but then went on to rag on about how lousy our business was. I took her off our email lists and have blocked her emails from getting through to me.

But all of this leads to just one conclusion. It pays to be nice. Things go wrong sometimes and if you’re gracious about it, others will be gracious to you. And sometimes when you think the other guy screwed up, it’s actually you that screwed up. So you could end up being embarrassed.

The way you do anything is the way you do everything. So if you’re nice when things are tough, you’ll be nice when things are good. That means you’ll attract other people and situations to you like that. Personally, I’d rather work with nice people.