Why Leaders Shouldn’t Be Nice

“He is a nice guy, I like working with him.” “She is really nice and always helps me when I ask.” Have you ever heard someone describing his or her boss in these terms? Do you strive to be a nice boss? Do you enjoy when people reporting to you say that you are a nice person to work with? If that is the case, do you believe that you are doing a good job as a manager and a leader? You are wrong! Being nice is maybe not that bad as being a jerk but you definitely have a long way to go to be a great manager and a leader.

In short, being nice is weakness and a non-transparent behavior that encourages hiding things and has a dramatic negative impact on individual and team performance. Just consider these types of behavior that it encapsulates:

Fixing mistakes of others – If you step in and fix something your team messed up, you are being nice. You may also be hiding the fact that there is a problem. You don’t mean to, but that doesn’t change the fact that you do. The same goes for you constantly working crazy hours to be able to do your work without anyone really knowing. Not only you are not recognized for your efforts, but by your dedication you are hiding the fact that there is a staffing issue and therefore a problem. At some point you burn-out, which may easily happen in this scenario, or you decide to quit. To everyone’s surprise the new person struggles and the realization comes the company needs to hire two people for the job. All that takes time and causes pains through the organization.

Not saying things that need to be said – I talked about this extensively in Leadership Means Speaking Up. By not being direct with people around you and trying to sugar coat your feedback, or not bringing issues into the attention of people who need to improve, you are being nice. You are also preventing them from learning and growing.

Lying to yourself – This is probably the worst kind of lying. It often happens when you are blaming everyone around rather than admitting that it was you or your team who made a mistake. You decide to blame everyone around and not the people who caused the problem and need to learn from it. You and your team. It is you and your team who deserves the blame and who needs to fix the issue.

Taking the blame – It is expected from leaders that they take blame for things that went wrong. It is fine, and even desirable, to take the blame for mistakes made by your team. It is your team, therefore your responsibility. To the outside world, you are the one who messed up. However, it can’t end here. If the team doesn’t know that they did something wrong, they will never learn, and chances are the problem will repeat. By shielding the team completely from the consequences of their actions and by being nice, you are also removing any chance for them to get better, learn, and grow. In fact, you are hurting them.

“Replace being nice with being fair, firm and kind. You may not win the popularity contest, but you will win respect of others.”

So if being nice is not the way to go, what should you replace it with? Try being fair, firm, and kind. By changing your mindset from trying to be nice to more constructive mindset of fairness, and firm kindness you can retain a good working relationship with the people around you while being truly helpful and improving performance of the team.

If you see a problem, speak up – To be a truly effective leader you need to deal with problems head-on. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist, or being too nice and not digging into a root cause of a problem worrying that who knows where it can lead is not a winning strategy in long-term. It may temporarily help you with being popular since no one likes people who rock the boat, but it will backfire eventually. You, the team, and the company will pay the price. The right thing to do is to identify the problem, understand the root cause, and propose a solution. You shouldn’t try to overanalyze who did what and assign blame. Focus on the lessons learned and a positive future outcome.

Say what people need to hear – Too often leaders try to spare feelings of others and won’t say the things that need to be said and that others need to hear to be able to improve. When you see a behavior that is not acceptable, or that negatively impacts the individual in question, you need to provide a feedback. Don’t start with escalating to others, but simply provide the feedback to the person who needs to improve. It is often the case that people don’t even realize they are doing something they shouldn’t or don’t understand the impact their actions and behavior may have on others. Just pointing a light on it is the first step. It is your moral responsibility as a leader to do just that. Make sure you do it in a way that the person can process and don’t worry about losing popularity. Chances are that even though at first the person may be angry or embarrassed, eventually they will realize that you care and said the right things for their own good and they will thank you and respect you more.

Own your mistakes – Always start with yourself. I talked about owning everything around you in How To Practice Personal Leadership. By adopting the mindset that only you are responsible for your own actions you can prevent many misunderstandings, many hurt feelings, and dramatically improve your performance and credibility in the eyes of others. When something goes wrong always start by asking what you could have done differently and what you can do to fix the issue. Chances are there are things you can do that you have under your control. Even if you need to go and ask for help, starting from a position of humility and admitting your own mistakes is more constructive than starting by assigning blame.

Take the blame but distribute lessons learned – Taking blame for the mistakes of the team is the right leadership philosophy. To the outside world you are the person who is ultimately responsible for everything that your team messed up. You are the boss, you are the leader, you are responsible. However, you also need to make sure the team learns from their mistakes and that means once you defused the situation externally and took the blame on your shoulders, you need to get together with the team and be clear about the problem and talk it through. Everyone on the team needs to understand what each of them did wrong and what to do differently next time. If they see that you took the blame, that creates a more secure environment, they know that you will protect them, but that you will also hold them accountable and they need to get their act together. Only by having a candid conversation with the team you can ensure the lessons are learned.

It is clear that shooting for being a nice boss is not the winning strategy in the end. People will like you because you are telling them what they want to hear. Until they realize you actually held them back by not telling them what they needed to hear. As a leader you should replace being nice by being fair, firm and kind. You may not win the popularity contest, but you will win everyone’s respect.


What is your take on nice leaders? Do you believe that being nice can go hand in hand with being a great leader and a great manager? What being nice means for you?

Photo: geralt / Pixabay.com

Categories: Leadership


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