I got to spend time over the holidays with close friends and their parents. One night as I took on chef duties and my friend’s dad served as sous chef, I asked about his career (he was long retired). I was fascinated to dig into what a software systems specialist did in the 60s and 70s. The size of the computers he worked on compared to my smart phone sitting on the counter. Upon hearing about my current work, my friend’s father flatly stated, “I was a terrible leader. I was too nice. And I got feedback that I was too nice and I stopped being a manager that day.” Like the meal we were preparing, the conversation was hearty.
Being too nice is a topic I discuss a lot – with individual clients and cohorts of emerging and high potential leaders. What is the difference between nice and kind, does it matter, can you change your proclivity?
When you are too nice, you may be seen as weak, can be taken advantage of, or may be too willing to please, often to your own detriment. Nice leaders water down direct and constructive feedback wanting to be nice and to be liked. If you are too nice, you may be ineffective in clarifying a vision and direction, in bringing out the best work in others, or in turn, may take on more work than you should, not effectively delegating because you don’t want to inconvenience others.
In contrast, kind leaders deliver difficult information in a kind way. They treat others as they would want to be treated: fair, balanced, emotionally aware, but they also don’t let staff off the hook by being too nice. They hold others accountable, maintain a high bar and high standards, while being relatable and approachable. In my experience, kind leaders are realists who thrive in a growth mindset where gray can be the norm and challenges are also opportunities for growth and development.
Kind leaders actively listen rather than seek to please. They welcome collaboration and look for consensus, but they also make decisions and move forward, rather acting from a place of fear of hurting others’ feelings. To be kind in management means that you can be likable, but you also earn respect and inspire others to work hard because they want to work hard for you.
Every quarter is a chance to focus on an attribute of leadership – to inspect if it is a strength or opportunity to improve. If being too nice is your Achilles heel, it may be an attribute to put some intention around shifting for the next 90 days. Yes, people want to be around you and they may really like you, but they may not feel inspired, challenged, motivated or engaged to work hard and carry their load. They may know that their nice boss will pick up the pieces without complaint or pushback. Be kind, yet direct in aligning on expectations; be kind in delivering a message even if it is difficult; approach interactions as an opportunity for growth.
To my sous chef, thanks for help with the meal. The conversation was delicious.