Leaders: When Being Nice Isn’t Nice at All

LeadersLong gone are the days of the cold blooded business executive sitting behind his expansive mahogany desk, twirling his moustache as he dreams up new ways to torture and terrify his underlings.

Ok, that might be the Hollywood version of the mean CEO, but business today has definitely changed.

Most leaders are encouraged to be human – to engage with staffers at every level, walk through their corporate offices mingling, even participate in staff parties or other events.

That type of ‘level playing field’ atmosphere certainly makes for a pleasurable work environment, and probably places your organization on the list of “top spots to work”.

Can Leaders be Too Nice?

But can you be too human? Too nice? And could you be setting yourself up for trouble by playing the jocular nice guy with your teams?

CEO Michael Fertik says you can.

Writing recently for Harvard Business Review, Fertik outlines his reasons, based on his years in the trenches as an Internet entrepreneur, and boldly states, “Being too nice can be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization.”

He outlines some scenarios where being nice can be harmful to business and morale. Let’s see if you recognize any of them.

Polite Deception

He calls this the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” mentality. Where bad ideas aren’t called out for what they are, whether due to politeness, or because “No one feels empowered to gently suggest why that particular idea won’t work.” Furnik states that at his company, people are supported in calling out silly ideas, as long as they do it respectfully. Don’t waste precious time or money humouring a person when an idea simply won’t work.

The Long Linger

Most of us have experienced this one: The wrong hire. Letting someone go is not a fun process. But for leaders, letting a bad hire linger is even worse. Furnik recommends being “… kind and communicate clearly, but don’t be nice. Be surgical about it. Make the clean cut. Help the person transition somewhere he or she can succeed. Handling employee issues immediately helps your culture and productivity – over time, you’ll attract employees with similar values and convictions.”

Being a Doormat

No matter who you’re dealing with – peers, suppliers, or employees, being too nice allows you to potentially be taken advantage of. “You don’t need to be severe to be respected, but you do need to hold your organization to certain standards — and you must be firm about people meeting them. Setting rules will help you when decisive action is needed.”

What do you think? Have you found the perfect balance of nice, but firm?

Image courtesy of TV Tropes