Is Your "Nice" Leadership Style Counter-Productive?

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?

Is Your “Nice” Leadership Style Counter-Productive?

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?

Diaper Genie Feedback

Today’s post is a direct response to a subscriber’s question:

I took my first real leadership position when my oldest son was still in diapers. Every time I used our diaper genie, I thought, this is just how feedback and bad news works. Each level takes the poop and seals it in a bag before it gets sent to the next level up. Then, that level sanitizes it some more with another layer of protection. By the time it gets to the top, it smells pretty benign.

“I would love to hear your thoughts on eliciting candid feedback from your team and stakeholders? How do you get your team to take the risk of saying what needs to be said to those in power? How do you go about it? What suggestions do you have to do this effectively?”

Diaper genies work great for babies, but are a dangerous leadership tool.

So how do you get your employees to tell you the truth?

How do you ask for feedback in a way that feels safe?

5 Ways To Get More Feedback

Create an Environment of Trust

When I put this question out on my Let’s Grow Leaders Facebook page for insights, Eric Dingler shared:

You have to start with the end in mind. I think the best way is to have a culture of trust to start with. If you have a reputation of being a jerk and closed off to input, no trick will work. Once you have a culture of trust. You can simply ask for feedback. If you don’t feel like you are getting feedback, you’ve probably failed to establish a safe environment.

For more on creating a trusting environment see, A Matter of Trust: Why I Trust You, Why I Don’t.

Model it

I often see managers say to their employees, “I am wide open to feedback,” but then discourage their employees from being open with others above them. Or worse, they model their fear of repercussions. Employees will always listen to what you do more than what you say. If you are open in giving honest feedback to your boss, your team will be more likely to give you truthful feedback as well.

Ask

There are many ways to ask for feedback on both a formal and informal basis. I use one-on-ones to do this on a regular basis, so the feedback is casual and frequent. I also ask for feedback more formally during mid-year and end-of-year reviews. Employee surveys can also be good. Read more about feedback in Feedback: Getting Great Insights From People Who Matter.

Respond Elegantly

Start with “thank you.” Always. Watch how you react, not just with your words, but with your face, eyes, and body language. Listen attentively and react calmly, even if you disagree with the feedback. Work to understand the perceptions, even if you know there is more to the story.

Close the Loop

When given the gift of formal and informal feedback, be sure to close the loop. Recap what you heard. If you are going to take action, share that. Circle back and ask for feedback on your progress. Closure helps to build the trust, and encourages future feedback.