Are You Too Nice to Lead? #leadership #peopleskills
by Kate Nasser | 24 Comments »
The word leader used to mean strong, directive, and unemotional. That picture has shifted to less directive and more in touch with employees’ needs.
Yet where is the balance between results-focused and people-focused? In tough moments …
Are you too nice to lead?
Image by: SeanbJack via Creative Commons License.
There are team members who want, welcome, and will only work for a nice leader — until they see that the nice leader won’t address poor performance and cannot negotiate tough issues with other teams and management.
They feel unprotected and at the mercy of slacking team members and other teams. So much for leaders being nice!
When Might You Be Too Nice to Lead?
- With Fear of Conflict. If you tend to avoid conflict and want people to just work things out for themselves, you may be seen as too nice to lead.
Alternative: Get a coach to help you develop your conflict resolution skills. Great leaders move past their fear. They know when to step in and even teach others how to work together.
- In Times of Great Change. In everyday work, your teams think of you as a very effective leader. Then the organization announces a major change and you must lead your teams through it. The tension rises and your teams resist. In this moment of truth, do you lead them forward? If you cave in to their objections and resistance, your boss may see you as too nice to lead.
Alternative: Have the courage to draw on the good will you have with your team. Show them you believe in them and in the change. If you don’t believe it, why should they?
- When You Require Emotional Support. Being humble and less directive can be good for your team as respects and taps their talent and commitment. Showing no confidence and needing constant emotional support can scare the bejeebers out of them and earn you the label of too nice or weak to lead.
Alternative: Learn and understand the interplay between being confident and being humble. Confidence is strength for your team. Humbleness opens the door to growth. Both are valuable leadership traits. Lack of confidence isn’t.
- If You Must Be Liked. Needing to be liked can steer you to many poor leadership behaviors. It can drive you to sacrifice results for the virtual hug. This can earn you the label of too nice to lead.
Alternative: Be like-able without seeking to be liked.
- When You Get Promoted. Picture yourself leading your former peers and even being a peer of your former boss. Guilt or feelings of unworthiness can make you seem timid or too solicitous. This can earn you the label of too nice to lead.
Alternative: Your boss or another leader put their faith in you. You were promoted for a reason. The team you lead needs your courage and talent. Even if some team members grouse in jealousy, the team’s success depends on your willingness to do the job. Embrace the responsibility you were given; don’t trigger the decision maker’s doubt and regret. Believe in yourself, the purpose, and the team. Lead.
- If You Own Their Behavior. When you mistakenly believe that you are responsible for a team member’s behavior, you are at risk of giving an errant employee too many chances. You may take their behavior as your failure. If you are coaching one of your team members and they are not making progress, would you be able to tell them they are no longer on the team? If not, you may earn the label of too nice to lead.
Alternative: Afford your team members the adult responsibility of owning their own behavior. Coach, teach, guide, and lead them. But let them own their own behavior!
- When Your Career is Paramount. When you care about your career growth more than the current position, you may inappropriately say yes to other teams or management requests. You are busy pleasing everyone else and your current team’s success may suffer. If you are lucky, this may earn you the label of too nice to lead. If you are not lucky, it may earn you a different label that isn’t fit for print. Either way, it’s not what a great leader does.
Alternative: Let current successes, appropriate interactions, and great negotiation pave your career path.
As the definition of leadership has shifted from rough directive behavior to engaging employees, some leaders veer off course and focus only on happiness.
From professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™
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Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.
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Very nice post, Kate. I was especially struck by your first point, that a leader who is too nice can leave employees feeling they’re on their own, with no one to stand up for them against workers who may not be pulling their fair share of the load. Leading well is not an easy task, but neither are most things that are worth doing. Thanks for giving us lots to think about!
And thank you Lorne for underscoring the balance of compassion and action.
I hope you will share your insights on any post that catches your attention here at Smart SenseAbilities.
This is a wonderful post and it brings up an important topic in the arena of leadership. Being a leader at times puts you in situations that are out of your comfort zone and may promote stress in the moment. . In those situations the trust and good will that the leader has established helps the group move as a group through these challenging times. Being able to be calm in a storm is a sign of a leader. Your alternative suggestions for how the leader can deal with the situations you mention are ‘spot on’ and are good ‘food for thought’ elements for any leader.
I have tried thinking of other situations ‘where you might be too nice to lead’ and most everything that comes to mind only seems to be a subtle variation of the ones you have listed. The only one I might add is around critical or strategic thinking. If you don’t spend enough time critically assessing options you may be ‘too nice to lead’.
Thanks Kate for your post, it really has me thinking.
As I was writing this post, I thought of the stress that nice leaders (ironically enough) sometimes cause. I wonder if they see it? Especially as you say, in moments where strategic thinking must supersede the desire to be liked.
Thanks for your comment here .. I am always glad to have your contributions.
I cant decide which one of your statements, words, sentiments i love more. I found myself saying AMEN.. truth… YES! after each sentence.
I will share this article with many!
Love what you do Kate!
Your feedback warms my heart Lolly for you have found the balance between head and heart — the center that all leaders must find.
In fact your latest post to CEOs and other execs: Take time to recognize effort as well as results is a clear example of the balance.
We have a good thing going in our connection that is based on a strong belief in leading from within and that Twitter chat you run every Tues at 8pm ET gives all a chance to share and learn.
Best to you and your family at the Holidays,
You’ve named a significant problem in leadership Kate and Bravo for doing so. In the current wave of encouraging emotionally savvy/relationship based leadership, we’ve ignored this end of the spectrum.
Needing to be liked is most likely the core problem driving the not-so-nice failure to lead. I am fond of telling clients who are reluctant to make tough calls “That’s why you get paid the big bucks.” If the leader insists in being apparently nice but in actuality not so nice, it’s also helpful to remind them that the slow boil is more painful and costly than simply getting it done. Everyone, including, the leader will at least enjoy a sense of relief, and at best a sense of feeling good about deciding.
Thanks Kate. This is a post I may pass along to clients.
Great article. It’s true, leaders who have a high desire to be “nice” tend to have a very high interpersonal sensitivity – we call it ‘being a people pleaser’. Rarely have I met a leader who attains their own desired success level who is “too nice”.
Some people, some times need to be rebuked and some more than others. So long as you love them, it doesn’t mean that you have to always like them too.
You just touched on my wound! This is exactly the problem I’m facing at work. I’m expected to take my existing boss’s position in future but the difference between me and my boss that he is too aggressive and I’m very calm in nature. So when I take his position while he is away, I’m looked at as a very nice version of him. He also says that I’m a bit soft with people. I don’t see myself this way though! Yes I admit I’m nice but not to the extent that it affect work. I can see that he stopped saying this to me specially that he didn’t mention this in last week appraisal which triggers that either I’m over this or he is convinced that his style of leadership is different than mine. He is way too aggressive.
Having said that, I see myself a bit soft when it comes to dealing with my colleagues who are at my level for now. There is one specific person who is my friend but he doesn’t like me to boss around when I take my boss place. I tried serveral times to talk to him avoiding any clashes (as I know soon I will go back to work beside him) but I don’t see it working. The way I deal with him is maybe different than the way my boss does. My boss doesn’t expect much of him as he sometimes delays tasks but I don’t allow this when I take the position so I see where the conflict is!
Anyway, sorry if I took long but this is a real problem I’m facing 🙂
Thanks for pointing this Kate ????
Very common challenge when you are a peer today and a boss tomorrow. It also doesn’t help that your boss requires little of him. The “temporary” nature of your position (when he’s away) presents another challenge.
Comes the day you are promoted to that position full time, you will have the opportunity to use your amiable style to inspire others as long as you can also focus on the end results. This is very possible. I have seen it and coached it many times.
Hi Kate I hear this a lot from wanna be managers & leaders. They tell me they’re too nice and care too much for people to be promoted and be in management. At that point, I have to gauge how much time I have to talk with them, because often this can evolve into a no-win debate. The wanna be managers will start to laundry-list the “terrible” managers they’ve worked for — heartless, dictatorial, uncaring, etc. Given their frames of reference, who can blame them? However, I’ve seen, have worked with & for the “other” kind of manager — the nice kind. The kind of manager who inspires you because s/he sees in you something you haven’t seen for yourself. The kind of manager who makes you WANT to be around them, help them, bring ideas to them, problem solve and debate with them because it’s fun & it’s an opportunity to learn. That kind of manager and leader is the kind who cares. L
This was one of the reasons I wrote this post. Many good people shy away from leadership believing they have to be either nice or tough. The balance is truly the answer to being an inspiring leader — one who can combine a focus on people and the end results.
Thanks for your expansion on this.
Warmest holiday wishes,
Great balance you struck here. Being a “nice” leader doesn’t mean you let all things go. In some studies, leaders who are nice and set sound, accountable standards garner more respect from team members than other types. What this means you can care but you also care about the results. After all, there is a higher purpose to the work we do and the leadership we offer, and we cannot lose sight of this in a sea of niceness.
Wonderful insights here. Thank you, Kate.
Thank you Jon. You so clearly and succinctly stated the guts of this post … you can care about people and results — in fact you must.
I so appreciate your insight and our connection. You are doing a wonderful job in your blog posts on Millennials that are helping us all to stretch and grow.
Kate, Thanks so much for addressing this very important question. Many fine potential leaders do not take the next step because they are afraid they will not be liked. Many leaders are not aware that they are afraid to cross the line between being too nice and making a difference. Fear of conflict is especially difficult to overcome if one is afraid of displeasing other people. Great insights. Lyn
I see so much of the conflict aversion when I coach and teach mid-level leaders. Many find it incredibly difficult to find the balance between focus on people and results. As you say, many fine potential leaders fall short of what they could do because of this fear.
So you and I will keep working to help them bridge that gap!
Best regards and warmest thanks,