I remember sitting down in front of one guy and trying to read his financials for his three year old business. The guy is 32 years old and the business had taken off quicker than he had ever imagined. The man has more than eight independent sales reps. Sales are soaring, and their products are in demand but he is young, inexperienced and running the company into the ground. He also likes partying a lot.As I studied the company's financial statement, I sat nervously, seeing that things weren't good. But on this day, I was studying my own performance in business like from a mirror. What I was seeing was almost the same problem I faced in my own company. After what seemed like an eternity, I looked up and said, "Your Company has cancer, and I'm afraid it's terminal. You've mismanaged what could have been a rich and powerful company. You don't know what you're doing, and worst of all you don't have the guts to admit it. You're incompetent, a bad businessman and you're either a crook or a clown. I hope you're just a clown." I knew the guy was in danger of not paying his employees because his accounts receivable were more than 90 days old. It affected his cash flow and he had a choice to make: use the money he needed for payroll to pay bills and keep the company afloat or pay his employees and close up shop. I'm reminded of this story today as I read about a new study: Do Nice Guys - and Gals - Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income by Timothy A. Judge of the University of Notre Dame, Beth A. Livingston of Cornell University and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario. It was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers found, in part, that "agreeableness is negatively related to income and earnings,” that nice guy” takes a hit for being highly agreeable," and that this translates into lower earnings. Essentially, the study found that people in the business world who are "nice" make less than people who are "mean."Let's ask ourselves, "What do they mean by 'nice'?" Most businessmen I know are not a "nice" man by many people's standards. Some would call them mean, but I'd call them principled and strong. And they are successful. They show you how they care by speaking the truth plainly and challenge us to be a better man. They didn't mince words most of them often harsh, but that truth will help us build better businesses. Strength and compassion are not mutually exclusive. I believe that one key to success is to accept truth, no matter how it's spoken. If people haven’t been so harsh with some of the people we see decades ago, it's likely they would have become just another failed businessman - and possibly even a crook, instead of just a clown. I've received much feedback in my life from many different types of people. The old adage, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it," is an appropriate reference here. While I don't condone mincing words or dancing around issues, I do believe that all of us are capable of showing respect and empathy for those with whom we work. If that is the foundation for feedback, even the strongest and most critical of assessments can be delivered with respect and consideration. Say it like it is ... but don't take joy in skewering someone or engaging in what might border on personal attacks. The world is full of people who make excuses, people who are cowards and people who use the term "nice" to cover up their inability to make a hard decision, say what needs to be said or defend themselves, their positions or other people because they're afraid of how they'll be viewed or that someone won't like them anymore. This is cowardly.In my experience, many people confuse being cowardly with being nice. It's easier to aim to please and say what others want to hear than to form an opinion and fight for it, even if it means taking a risk or losing your job. And that's the real issue: the employee mindset. It's drilled into us from childhood. Schools teach children to be compliant, to do as they're told, to be good employees - or face the consequences. Those who question the system are usually considered "problem" children. Those who think for themselves, who challenge and question, are labelled "deviants". From a young age we're taught to please people. That, it's believed, is what makes you a good or nice person.The rich are willing to take risks, question the status quo and say what needs to be said, even if it's hard to hear - and hard to say. Many people view this as mean, but I believe it's the exact opposite. It's a kindness to speak honestly and say what you feel is right. Only cowards let fear keep them from making tough decisions.I'm convinced that among the keys to success, in business and in life, are truthfulness, the ability to take - and give - honesty and well-intended feedback, strength of character and conviction in one's principles.And that's not mean. That's nice.