Being Too Nice is a Big Problem for Leaders


A new project leader asked her boss, “What will it take to be successful in this position?” The boss’s response was, “It’s important to be really nice in order to attract new customers, which is what top management is focused on.”

So, the new project leader went overboard to be nice to new customers at the expense of her team members and current customers. When a new customer called, they were given priority. When a new customer complained about a team member, she sided with the new customers’ POV. Employees felt blamed and became disengaged. Interestingly, all customers questioned why they were not getting the intended results promised.

After the company lost two customers, the new project leader was sidelined. No one told her why. She became a disgruntled employee and left.

Clearly, her boss’s coaching to be really nice was not effective.

Many new leaders find themselves defaulting on the spectrum of being too nice to being too rigid. These extremes do not engage employees OR keep customers OR achieve intended results OR prevent career derailment.

The Challenge of Being Too Nice

If you’re too nice you risk being a pushover; you might keep an employee beyond their expiration date; you might see deadlines come and go; you might become too close with your employees at the expense of being able to give them tough feedback. (Forbes, 2018)

So why do many new leaders default to being too nice? They lack training! They lack confidence in fulfilling their new responsibilities. They want to be accepted and receive the highest ratings from their teams. Unfortunately, their passivity (being too nice) creates a lot of problems that could be avoided.

…leaders are also expected to make the tough decisions that serve the company or the team’s best interests. Being too nice can be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization. (Harvard Business Review, 2014)

No one is born a leader. Developing leadership requires work, effort, and tears to be effective. It’s an ongoing process of coaching, training, and development to learn to make hard decisions.

5 Tips to Overcome “Being Too Nice” as a Leader

  1. Start training to be a great leader as soon as possible, even before you receive the title of manager or team leader. There are many podcasts and training programs available that can help you become honest, polite, and assertive (but, not too nice). Since most successful leaders have a coach, it’s important to select the best coach for you. While companies should invest in their future and current leaders, don’t be afraid to pay for it yourself…you’re worth it!
  2. Shadow a leader you respect. Select a mentor and design a mutual agreement for you to shadow the mentor in meetings or projects. This will help develop your awareness of good leadership skills.
  3. Develop emotional intelligence. Success is an inside job. Your biases, habits, and fears of not being liked will get in the way of your effectiveness and results. Develop your emotional intelligence (EI). Take programs focused on developing awareness of your feelings and mindfulness of how you impact others. This will help you naturally develop compassion and an ability to relate well with others, which are required today to become a great leader.
  4. Have patience…becoming a great leader is a process. Developing the “soft skills” and the ability to “talk straight” takes time. Be patient with yourself since developing effective leadership skills will not happen overnight. And, know there will be times it feels easier to be too nice. Don’t fall into that trap. When murky situations or complex relationships threaten to derail you (and, they will), work with your coach to move through them now. Don’t let the moment or challenge sabotage your growth of becoming an effective leader.
  5. Understand uncertainty is part of being a leader. You will encounter a lot of curves and sharp points since there is no straight line upward in work and life. Develop resilience, resourcefulness, and flexibility. These three skills will serve you well in 2020 and beyond. Be coachable and avoid becoming derailed by the inevitable (and avoidable) problems caused by being too nice.

 ©Jeannette Seibly, 2020

Jeannette Seibly is an award-winning advocate for creating leaders and results. For the past 27 years, she has guided leaders and teams to excel. Are you ready for an unprecedented 2020? Contact Jeannette today for straight talk with dynamic results.

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