I remember talking with a leader not long ago. She’s an incredibly kind and gentle person. She’s smart, hard-working and loyal. She’s a relational leader and usually brings out the best in people, so she’s had success in leadership. At the time of our conversation she was experiencing problems in a new position and asked for my help.
In talking through the specific situation, it quickly became obvious she had one weakness and it was effecting her entire team. It’s a common weakness among leaders. At times, most of us will struggle in this area.
She was being too nice!
I realize this doesn’t sound like it could ever be a weakness. And it has made her well-liked in the organization. She’s incredibly popular. And she likes that. But it also had made her team less successful than it could have been. And, thankfully, she recognized it, but wasn’t sure how to fix it.
A few team members were taking advantage of her niceness by underperforming in their roles . She hadn’t challenged the problems, even though she knew she should. She was losing sleep over it, but didn’t know what to do. The relational leadership in her, which is a positive about her leadership style, was not working for these team members.
Perhaps you’ve seen this before in an organization. Maybe you’ve been on either side of this issue. If this is your situation, you have probably even thought or said things such as, “I gave them an inch and they took a mile.”
I am not suggesting one become a mean leader. It would be wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be biblical leadership. I am suggesting one become a wise leader. Wisdom learns to guide people in the direction which is best for them, the leader and the entire team or organization.
In this situation, I advised my friend to take off her “nice hat,” at least temporarily, to address the few people causing the majority of the problems that were impacting the entire team. As hard as I know it would seem at first, in the end it would be a blessing for the entire team—and my leader friend.
I have learned people accept the ‘what’ better if they first understand the ‘why’—so then I shared with her why I feel her default niceness is causing current problems for the team.
Here are three problems with being too nice as a leader:
It’s bad for the leader
The leader ends up stressing over the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the big picture, the leader is focused on a few problems with usually only a few people. The leader feels unsuccessful, even like a failure at times, as the team achieves less than desired results.
It’s bad for the organization
The team suffers because a few people mess up the system and progress for everyone else. Those on the team who wish to do the right thing lose respect for the leader. Others will follow the example of those taking advantage of the leader and lower their own performance standards. The organization loses.
It’s bad for the person taking advantage of the leader’s niceness
Enabling bad behavior is never good for the under-performing team member. It keeps him or her from identifying their full potential and from realizing personal success. They may be a superstar if they were given structure and held accountable to complete their work. And, they may never improve. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a person—certainly the team—is help them move on to something new.
And, for those still struggling with my concept here, let me give a more sobering example. I understand this is extreme, but it is the same principle. We have friends whose adult son got into a serious drug problem. He’s now recovering, but the parents and child would tell you the answer came only when they decided to demonstrate tough love, not enable him and literally refuse to bail him out again.
Again, extreme example, but sometimes being “too nice” is not the best way to love others.
“To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction.” Proverbs 12:1
Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to challenge them.
Leader, have you become too nice as a leader?
Are you allowing problems to continue out of a fear of not being liked? There is nothing wrong with being a relational leader. That can be a great style of leadership, but part of developing any healthy relationship involves conflict, tough conversations and difficult decisions.
If you are not careful, you can become everyone’s friend, but nobody’s leader.
Leading is hard—some days harder than others. The sooner you handle the problem (and the problem people), the sooner things will begin to improve on your team for everyone—and the sooner you can get a good night’s rest.