Executive Book Club

The book Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall makes all her executives read (and how it helps in challenging times)

Cynt Marshall and Mark Cuban at a Dallas Mavericks press conference
Credit: Mavericks

On Wednesday, the NBA suspended its season after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus.

It's in tough times like these that solid but also kind leadership is most important. And Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall says that's what she is currently getting from her boss, billionaire Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

On Thursday, for example, Cuban said he is trying to set a plan to pay hourly stadium workers after the NBA suspended the season.

"Instead of being all freaked out and consumed with the negative right now, we are crunching numbers to pay people who only get paid if we play," Marshall tells CNBC Make It.

And Marshall says Cuban's decision is having a ripple effect.

"We have season ticket members and others who are calling wanting to help pay the workers and volunteer. It's crazy," Marshall tells CNBC Make It.

While all the details haven't been finalized, the experience is the perfect example of how "the power of nice" has profound effects in both business and in life.

And that's why anyone who gets hired or promoted by Marshall to a leadership role gets a copy of the 2006 business book, "The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness."

"I give it to everybody who joins my leadership team as required reading because at the end of the day, you have to be nice. That's how you create business. I really believe that," Marshall told CNBC Make It on Jan. 30.

Marshall, who grew up in the housing projects in Richmond, California spent nearly four decades climbing the corporate ladder at AT&T. And today she is the first black female CEO in the NBA, having taken the helm at the Mavericks in 2018 to clean up the league's toxic work culture.

With the Mavericks, Marshall has focused on hiring a diverse and inclusive executive team. (There were no women or people of color on the Mavericks' leadership team when Marshall started. Today, 50% are women and 47% are people of color, according to a Mavericks spokesperson.)

Marshall has read the book herself numerous times over the years.

"[The book has] all these different little stories about how kind acts...a kind word...or just being nice when you want to be mean really actually produce desirable results," Marshall says.

"The Power of Nice" was written by two advertising executives who tell real-life stories about people (including some celebrities) using positive tactics and acts of kindness to succeed. The book is meant to debunk the adage "nice guys finish last" in business. 

Comedian Jay Leno wrote the forward for the book, writing "Life is not that hard. Try giving a little. You would be surprised how much you get back."

Leno credits his comedy success to simply being nice to people along the way.

"I recently told a joke on the show and got a letter from a woman saying she was offended by it. I called her to apologize and say I was sorry if I hurt her feelings," Leno wrote.

The next day Leno says his apology was headline news and he was being praised for his kindness.

While Marshall says she doesn't remember exactly how she came across in the book, she does remember the impact it had on her.

"When I read it, there's just so many 'aha' moments," she says.

At the time the book was published, Marshall was a senior executive at AT&T in Silicon Valley. Shortly not long after, she was promoted to president of the company's North Carolina branch.

"[The book] made me feel good about the fact that people have said I was nice. So it was kind of affirmation that I can continue to do that and that I don't have to be a witch to get my job done," Marshall says.

In addition to anecdotes, the book gives readers guidance on how to succeed through kindness, with its six "power of nice" principles. Here's what they say:

'Positive impressions are like seeds'

"Every time you smile at a messenger, laugh at a coworker's joke, thank an assistant, or a treat a stranger with graciousness and respect, you throw off positive energy," the book says.

That energy impacts others and will have a multiplier effect, which eventually find its way back to you, "often exponentially," the book says

'You never know'

You never know when you will cross paths with someone again in life, so make it habit to show acts of kindness to everyone you interact whether its at a coffee shop or on a work elevator.

"You have to treat everyone you meet as if they are the most important person in the world—because they are. If not to you, then to someone; and if not today, then perhaps tomorrow," the book says. 

'People change'

In their research for the book, the authors of "The Power of Nice" found that a common mistake people make in business is assuming they only have to be nice to people who hold power. But often people who don't have power eventually come to get it. So why not just be nice to everyone.

'Nice must be automatic'

The tininess acts of kindness like holding a door for someone or helping someone with their bags can have an enormous impact as it relates to business opportunities, the authors found.

"A friend recently told us the story of three consulting companies vying for a very large contract. One was summarily dropped, even though the firm did a terrific presentation. Why? they wondered. It turned out that when the prospective client arrived at the airport, an executive from one of the consulting firms neglected to help with her bags," the book said.

Being kind should be automatic in every day gestures in and outside of the office.

'Negative impressions are like germs'

"Just as positive actions are like seeds, rude gestures and remarks are like germs—you may not see the impact they have on you for a while, but they are there, silently infecting you and everyone around you," the authors write. And it's not lost on anyone that this example is all too real right now.

'You will know'

"Even if you never see a person you have treated badly again, even if no one sees or knows of your rudeness or bad behavior, you will know," the book says.

"The power of nice is not about running around manically smiling and doing everyone's bidding, all the while calculating what you'll get in return," the book says. Instead, its about valuing niceness — in yourself and in others — the same way you respect intelligence, beauty or talent.

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook.

Don't miss: 

From the first black cheerleader at Berkeley to making history as Mavericks CEO: How Cynt Marshall did it

The book that impacted Serena Williams' life: 'It's about change and I'm not good with change'

Karlie Kloss says this CEO's memoir 'really inspired' her to be a great leader

Disclosure: CNBC has a show starring Jay Leno called "Jay Leno's Garage

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