Is Your “Nice” Leadership Style Counter-Productive? post image

Have you ever had a boss that what just too nice?
Yesterday we talked about “Unnecessary Roughness: What Happens When Leaders are Mean:” On the flip-side what happened when your boss was too nice? Did they inspire? How were results?

Nice feels great but nice alone will not help anyone grow. Most employees want to be challenged. They want to know what behaviors to improve. It’s not nice to make the sugar-coating so sweet that they can’t taste the truth.

A Few Nice Examples

Job interview Feedback

I coached 3 employees headed into the same job interview. We refined resumes, role-played interview questions, and practiced the “close.” I was excited to hear the outcome. All three came back to me with the almost identical response.

“I didn’t get the job, but she told me I did just great in the interview my background was perfect, and I was clearly her second choice.”

I knew that was BS, but it was not my position to say. I then got sucked into the “nice but unproductive” spin cycle.

Clearly all three were not the hiring manager’s “second choice.” Sure all 3 candidates emerged with their egos intact. But, How was this helpful? What should they do next time to be better prepared? How should they enhance their background for a similar position? How did they perform in the interview? They were destined to head into the next scene with the same approach, and likely the same outcome.

The Email Lesson
“I asked you to prepare me for the executive session. You have now sent me 5 emails with all kinds of detail on the subject. I am now sorting by your name and deleting every email you sent me this month. If you have something I need to know, send it to me in a 5 bullet list in the next 10 minutes.”

Ouch. Ahh, but what a memorable lesson. A teachable moment well-played. You might even get to the word “nice” if you thought about it long enough.

Is This the Best You Can Do?
“Every time I take work to my boss he asks ‘is this the best you can do?’ At first I was so mad. I couldn’t stand him. But each time I realized I could do better. Now I ask myself that question 3 times before i even take anything to him. I have grown so much under his leadership. I now realize how nice he was to invest all that time in developing me.”

 What is Nice?

Productive Nice…

  • starts with caring deeply about the person you are working to help
  • is truthful
  • improves
  • challenges
  • raises the bar
  • celebrates success and incremental improvements
  • helps people to learn from their mistakes
  • ?

Have you ever had a boss that was just too nice?

How do you lead toward “productive nice?”
Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

John Bossong   |   21 February 2013   |   Reply

This is a great post. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years. I’m nice by nature but nice has not always gotten the results I’ve needed. Interesting topic. Nice job!

letsgrowleaders   |   21 February 2013   |   Reply

John, so great to have you join the conversation. Leadership is always such a balancing act…. and that’s what makes is so much fun!

Melissa H.   |   21 February 2013   |   Reply

I love that you have pointed out that there is a “productive” nice and then a “counterproductive” nice… I completely agree that there has to be a balance…too nice is no good! As a very new “boss” myself I am always thinking back to past experiences with ex employers who motivated me, angered me, scared me, etc and I try to use those positive experiences on my own employees! Amongst these negative experiences are also quite a few employers who were just way too nice and lost respect from their employees because of it! Many times it doesn’t seem genuine either!

I have been actively searching the internet for suggestions and proven methods of effective leadership. I do not want to make the same mistakes that I have witnessed from my bosses in the past. This post really reminded me of a book I just read, “Green Beans & Ice Cream” by author Bill Sims Jr. ( This book also clearly points out that the thing we need the most, is the thing we often receive the least—positive reinforcement and feedback from those around us. Constructive feedback and positive reinforcement really helps give a sense of community and importance! As an employee you want to feel like you’re apart of something and working towards something that adds to the business…not just going through the motions. This is true on a leadership level, with family, friends and even with your spouse. The theme of positive reinforcement plays a main role in this book and it stresses that as a leader we must constantly be improving how individuals feel about themselves, the work they’re doing and the results they’re achieving. Thank you for your thought provoking post and I hope you will check out this book :)

letsgrowleaders   |   21 February 2013   |   Reply


Thanks so much for joining the conversation, and your in-depth response and book suggestion. I will definitely check it out.

chrys peterson   |   21 February 2013   |   Reply

Great post…and a good reminder that we are not doing our people any favors by letting them continue with mediocrity because we don’t want to hurt feelings!! Thank you. I do disagree however that I would EVER get to “nice” with that email. You can be straightforward and honest without being rude…and to me, it was pretty rude. It is always a tough job to offer critique. If you have built a culture where your employees know you love them and want the best for them, it’s easier for them to hear the most difficult words with an open heart. Thank you again for the great insight!

Jon M (@ThinDifference)   |   21 February 2013   |   Reply

I have been called “too nice” at times. However, I had a business professor who was very nice but we could be lulled in to this, as he was a tough, challenging teacher. There is something to be said about the iron fist in the velvet glove. Nice is good, just don’t take advantage of it or take it too far. There is strength in nice! Thanks! Jon

letsgrowleaders   |   22 February 2013   |   Reply

Thanks so much for adding that Jon, great to see you here. I had that professor too, and I learned so much. Ironically, his big thing was teaching us to condense every message into 500 words…that has been so useful over the years… but very helpful these days ;-)

Alma Escamilla   |   22 February 2013   |   Reply

“Balancing Act” is indeed a great way to describe the pursuit of a Memorable Leader! I believe I should be strong in my presence and confidently deliver a sometimes very difficult message…..BUT my fibers are largely Nice and Compassionate. Striking the right balance is a worthwile adventure, I love it! The post hit home for many reasons, what great comments by all. One of my favorite bosses hurt my feelings by looking at me in the eye and telling me I was “Verbose”. She did me the biggest favor ever, much like the 500 word Professor. Succinct but powerful messaging has been a priority for me ever since that wonderful day. We laughed out loud about it, I remember her so fondly!!

letsgrowleaders   |   22 February 2013   |   Reply

Alma, So awesome to have you join the conversation. You have a wonderful way about you…not “verbose” at all…. so that must have been very nice feedback you received ;-)

Mitch Mitchell   |   28 February 2013   |   Reply

I often think “nice” gets a bad rap. I tend to believe I was “nice” because I never yelled at anyone or bullied everyone. I treated everyone with respect. I also held everyone to a standard that they knew about and data they couldn’t dispute. I’ve always said that no one should equate being nice with being weak.

For instance, in the example you gave where the leader asked if that was the best she could do… that would have irked me to no end if he didn’t offer anything as to what might be wrong. That the person had to figure it out for herself wasted a lot of time; not everyone would thrive under that kind of leadership.

letsgrowleaders   |   01 March 2013   |   Reply

Mitch, so awesome to have you join the conversation. I am really with you… I too have been accused of being “too nice”… even when the results are on fire. Nice can create a wonderful nurturing environment. (you may also enjoy my counter-post “unnecessary roughness). You raise an important point about how “is that the best you can do?” could be received. For me “too nice” comes in when it people are not challenged to fulfill their potential or if they are not told the truth in an effort to spare their feelings. I hope you will visit again and share more insights with the Let’s Grow Leaders community.