#324 from Innovative
Leader Volume 7, Number 2
You Just Too Nice?
Mr. Stark is Principal of PBS & Associates, Inc., a San Diego based consulting firm specializing in leadership development, organizational assessments, and management consulting (phone 619-451-3601).
Several of the organizations and departments that
we work with have leaders that we would describe as
"nice" people. They are the type of people you would
like to have over for dinner or have as personal friends. They
would do anything to help you, or support you in your efforts.
When we describe this type of leader, there's a tendency to think
that the organizations these individuals lead would have employees
with very high morale. After all, everyone wants to work for a
Well, it might surprise you to know that more
often than not these organizations have some evidence of
significant people problems and below-average morale. We have
found that when it comes to leadership, there is a significant
difference between being "nice" and doing what's
"right." When leaders are nice, but do not do what is
right and in the best interest of the organization and its
employees, the leaders lose the respect of their staff, create
people problems, and eventually morale plummets.
We have identified seven specific problems that
tend to appear when leaders are nice, but do not do what is right.
Failure to deal with problem employees.
Leaders who want
to be seen as nice tend to ignore employee problems. These leaders
prefer to manage by what we have coined "hope-and-hint."
They hope problem employees will improve without any intervention
and when they do not, they drop a hint. Instead of coaching,
counseling, and terminating employees who do not improve, some
leaders ignore the problems or transfer the problem employees to
another department. Such a move further undermines morale. What do
these leaders get for being nice? They lose their employees'
respect. Employees know that their managers are shirking
responsibility by not dealing with their problem situations. In
fact, just as children sometimes do, the problem employees also
lose respect because they know the leaders do not have the guts or
courage to deal with the situation.
Failure to set and
maintain high standards of performance.
Many times, nice
leaders are hesitant to set and maintain high standards of
performance. These leaders lower their standards when employees
complain about their high expectations. After all, nice managers
listen to their employees and make adjustments accordingly. What
is ironic, is that it is impossible to maintain high morale in a
department or organization without having consistent standards and
Failure to act quickly.
managers prefer to wait because they hope the situation will
improve. When there are problems in the department or
organization, they tend to get worse, not better, unless you take
prompt action. One department we worked with was getting a lot of
customer complaints. The manager knew problems existed but
insisted that he was too busy to deal with the problems. The
problems lingered and morale suffered. The employees blamed
management and management blamed employees. Whenever there is a
problem, swift action is required. Do not allow employee or
operational problems to linger. The sooner you eliminate problems,
the more respect you will earn as the leader.
Carelessness with rewards. We currently work with several
organizations who have phenomenal reward and bonus systems. These
organizations have consistently provided employees with
above-average raises and provided bonuses to every employee on a
regular basis. How
can an organization that provides bonuses once a month or once a
year ever have low morale? Morale suffers when there is no
differentiation in the reward a top-performing team or employee
receives versus the reward a low-performing team or employee
receives. When rewards are not based upon performance, top
performers' morale suffers because they feel the reward system is
not fair. Low performers' morale suffers because they do not see
how their individual or team contributions impact the results.
Do not make your rewards an entitlement.
worked with an organization that provided a wonderful monthly
bonus to every employee based on the profitability of the
organization. Some months this bonus amounted to approximately 25
percent of each employee's base salary. One leader in the
organization was upset when an employee stated that the monthly
bonus should be even higher. Two things have occurred here. First,
the employee is out of touch with reality. How many organizations
give a monthly or yearly bonus? Not many! Second, the bonus is no
longer perceived as a bonus and is now perceived as an
You can eliminate
the entitlement perspective if the bonus is perceived as truly
rewarding the top-performing team or individual. Top performers
are not usually the disgruntled employees who believe they are
entitled to the reward. Second, we feel strongly that
"gifts" from the organization should be varied, (i.e.,
change what you reward). One month provide a reward for
outstanding quality. The next month reward teamwork. The next
month reward customer service. Select values that are important to
the organization's success and reward those individuals and teams
who live those values.
Increase non-monetary rewards.
have witnessed money backfiring as a motivator as many times as we
have seen it work. Over time, what is more effective is for a
leader to create a relationship with each employee where the
employee truly feels that his or her unique gift and contribution
to the team are valued. This relationship can be created with
every employee by providing praise and recognition for what is
going right, as well as feedback for what needs to be improved.
The feeling that you are valued and add special significance to
the team/organization's success cannot be bought with money.
Tell it like it is!
Nice leaders tend
to present communication in the way they think people will not
have their feathers ruffled. They speak in general terms or hedge
their words. The reality is that people do not respect leaders who
do not honestly communicate. Be honest. Tell it like it is.
Being nice may be
effective in social settings where only brief and superficial
interactions are required. However, when leading others it is most
important to do what's right. Doing what's right means being fair,
honest, ethical, and making hard decisions. Sometimes doing what's
right will not be labeled "nice." But, doing what's
right will positively effect long-term personal, interpersonal,
and organizational growth.