It’s funny that one of today’s big headlines is about nice guys earning less. Not “ha ha” funny. But more “sad” funny. According to the CNN article and the research of four university professors, agreeableness has a negative impact on income. Disappointing, considering I’ve been through more than one leadership and development program that emphasized being “emotionally intelligent” and that how you get things done is as important – if not more so – that what you get done.

My guess – and hope – is that these findings are only temporary.

I’ve recently been reading the book A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. He describes the Ford Motor Company in the 1930s and 1940s as a terribly dreary place where any emotion or “niceness” could get you fired. In fact, a gentleman by the name of John Gallo was terminated simply for smiling. Perhaps poor John was just trying to be nice. Clearly, Ford didn’t care much about being nice either. And I don’t think anyone would question whether on not he’s considered a success. But, Ford doesn’t still fire you just for smiling. Change happens.

Our society is obsessed with short-term results. Beat the horse with a stick and it will run faster, but only for a short while until it tires, keels over, and dies. Even our financial and economic system is built upon quarterly results as opposed to long-term, steady, sustainable growth. And in a society where “now, now, now” is the imperative, there’s no time for nice. Let’s keep it real – “mean” will get you short-term results, but they are not sustainable and we all know this to be true.

Fortunately, there’s change in the wind.

It’s just a slight wobble, a “blip in the Matrix”, or a faint noise in the distance – but it’s there. It’s the undertone – just beneath the surface – of every article about Gen Y and the Millennials that are or who soon will be entering the workforce and they value different things. Very different things. Soon, the old guard who cling to the once lauded management principles of the Industrial Age will be gone and a new breed of leaders will start doing what we all know – and knew all along – to be the right things. Like valuing what you produce more than how many hours you are in the office. Like believing it’s possible to have a successful virtual workforce. Like knowing social media isn’t a fad, but a real shift in the way we communicate, consume, and share information. Like knowing that rewarding the complete jerk because he gets good results perpetuates and compounds the problem. These leaders will understand that trust and transparency is the new currency, not secretive meetings in the corporate boardroom or exclusive cliques or clubs to get ahead. Empathy will be a critical leadership skill because these leaders remember what it felt like to have a tyrant as a boss and couldn’t imagine putting anyone through what they went through. And who will understand that being nice is good for the human condition and that – in the long run – it’s a much better way to live, work, and just be.

So before anyone goes accusing me of being a “softie”, let me assure you that I’m not. It’s perfectly possible to be tough, have high standards, demand excellence, and be nice at the same time. Treating others with respect and valuing relationships takes hard work. Sometimes you have an opposing position or you’ve got to make a difficult decision. But there’s no rule that says you have to be an ass about it. Remember Dalton, played by Patrick Swayze, in the movie Roadhouse? [warning: there’s a bit of bad language in the clip] While coaching his bouncers, he gives a great example of how you can “be nice” and tough at the same time. I love that scene.

It’s really just the Golden Rule. Treat others as you expect to be treated. I bet none of the mean people surveyed would like to be treated in the same way they treat others. Soon, there will be a time when that behavior is no longer rewarded with higher earnings and income, long-term sustainable results are valued over short-term successes, and being nice is a key to success – not a hindrance.

Well, one can hope.