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3 Problems with Being Too Nice as a Leader

I remember talking with a leader not long ago. She’s an incredibly kind and gentle person. She’s smart, hard-working, and loyal. She’s a relational leader and usually brings out the best in people, so she’s had success in leadership. At the time of our conversation she was experiencing problems in a new position and asked for my help.

In talking through the specific situation, it quickly became obvious she had one weakness and it was effecting her entire team. It’s a common weakness among leaders. At times, most of us will struggle in this area.

Her weakness?

She was being too nice!

I realize this doesn’t sound like it could ever be a weakness. And, it has made her well-liked in the organization. She’s incredibly popular. And, she likes that. But, it also had made her team less successful than it could have been. And, thankfully, she recognized it, but wasn’t sure how to fix it.

A few team members were taking advantage of her niceness by under-performing in their role. She hadn’t challenged the problems, even though she knew she should. She was losing sleep over it, but didn’t know what to do. The relational leadership in her, which is a positive about her leadership style, was not working for these team members.

Perhaps you’ve seen this before in an organization. Maybe you’ve been on either side of this issue. If this is your situation, you have probably even thought or said things such as, “I gave them an inch and they took a mile.” 

I am not suggesting one become a mean leader. It would be wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be Biblical leadership. I am suggesting one become a wise leader. Wisdom learns to guide people in the direction which is best for them, the leader, and the entire team or organization.

In this situation, I advised my friend to take off her “nice hat”, at least temporarily, to address the few people causing the majority of the problems which were impacting the entire team. As hard as I know it would seem at first, in the end it would be a blessing for the entire team – and my leader friend.

I have learned people accept the what better if they first understand the why – so then I shared with her why I feel her default niceness is causing current problems for the team.

Here are 3 problems with being too nice as a leader:

It’s bad for the leader

The leader ends up stressing over the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the big picture, the leader is focused on a few problems with usually only a few people. The leader feels unsuccessful, even like a failure at times, as the team achieves less than desired results.

It’s bad for the organization

The team suffers because a few people mess up the system and progress for everyone else. Those on the team who wish to do the right thing lose respect for the leader. Others will follow the example of those taking advantage of the leader and lower their own performance standards. The organization loses.

It’s bad for the person taking advantage of the leader’s niceness

Enabling bad behavior is never good for the under-performing team member. It keeps him or her from identifying their full potential and from realizing personal success. They may be a superstar if they were given structure and held accountable to complete their work. And, they may never improve. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a person – certainly the team – is help them move on to something new.

And, for those still struggling with my concept here, let me give a more sobering example. I understand this is extreme, but it is the same principle. We have friends who’s adult son got into a serious drug problem. He’s now recovering, but they parents and child would tell you the answer came only when they decided to demonstrate tough love, not enable him, and literally refuse to bail him out again.

Again, extreme example, but sometimes being “too nice” is not the best way to love others.

“To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction.” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭12:1‬ 

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to challenge them. 

Leader, have you become too nice as a leader?

Are you allowing problems to continue out of a fear of not being liked? There is nothing wrong with being a relational leader. That can be a great style of leadership, but part of developing any healthy relationship involves conflict, tough conversations and difficult decisions.

If you are not careful you can become everyone’s friend, but nobody’s leader.

Leading is hard – some days harder than others. The sooner you handle the problem (and the problem people), the sooner things will begin to improve on your team for everyone – and the sooner you can get a good night’s rest.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Tony Cortez says:

    Ron, thank you for this post! I am anything but a pushover, but I recently had this issue and it created a lot of havoc for me, the team and the persons involved.

    Great advice and the posted comments a re filled with rich ideas and wisdom.

  • Marcus Walfridson says:

    Good post! Would you say that the problem is that she is a nice person or is it more that this "niceness" ends up being saying things that she doesn't really mean? Because being nice in itself can never be a problem right? But if nice means that you are not saying what you really think to spare peoples feelings, then I understand fully.
    My question is: Can you be nice but say what you mean and still be a good leader in your opinion? Or is saying what you mean at all times per definition 'not nice'?

    • ronedmondson says:

      Great question. There are obviously a lot of potential semantic problems with this post – and in these scenarios.I would say in terms of extending grace and loving people you can never be “too nice”. But, being “too nice” (and I think the too here is important, because we should always be nice), may mean we are enabling bad behavior rather than saying what needs to be said.Jesus once went into the temple with a whip. On that specific instance He wasn’t being “too nice”, but He was doing what needed to be done – and, of course, He is always loving, because God is love.Yes, to answer your question – I believe you can certainly be nice and still be a good leader. I hope most people on our team think I’m genuinely nice. I hope I’m not too nice when I need to do what needs to be done as a leader.Hope this makes more sense.

  • Leadership says:

    I feel fatigue after reaching home doing works in office. It's indeed a bad feeling but real ways provided here seems very inspiring to get rid of such boring sickness. Thanks mate for helpful suggestions.

  • evang. audrey says:

    Leadership is never easy but with God as your director and additional help from materials and person/s like Ron the role can be adjusted. There will be person/s your will have to stand up to at times who causes chaos and put them on the right track.

  • Marius Aondona says:

    One way of avoiding to find oneself in this circumstance is by defining a clear cut behavioral culture. By this, everybody like Ron rightly pointed out, knows what is expected of them within certain situations or circumstances. However, in order to avoid a tensioned atmosphere within the work environment, the leader creates a balance where employees can mingle and interact with one another irrespective of position or hierarchy.This will give the leader a firm control of the organizations operations, but at the same time create the enabling environment for the exchange of ideas and an opportunity to benefit from mentor-ship values, which the leaders possess.

  • Subha B says:

    Thank you for this post. I have seen myself in that boat and am now steering it in a different direction – still being respectful but learning to shed light on issues that people need to address. Many of us were skilled in our original roles and then stepped up to leadership roles. However, doing our former jobs competently and now leading people are two different things. I am an elementary school principal. I was a strong teacher and I understand best practices in instruction. Having courageous conversations with my team members and doing them purposefully and respectfully was something I had to learn along the way. Reading books in the field of business really strengthened my skills in this area. Most importantly, I learned that there were others in my boat and I wasn't alone! There are some great books and resources to tap into and I continue to learn. Thanks, again.

  • Derick Kopp says:

    Ron, thanks for tackling this topic – I've not seen many other articles or posts about it. It can certainly be difficult to find the balance between authoritative, domineering leadership and kind, gentle, leadership. What are some practical ways to go about "firming up" your leadership style if you're too nice?

    • ronedmondson says:

      That's a great question. I'd say number one is to remember the why…the purpose. You have to weight the vision and mission you are trying to accomplish ahead of the one person who may not like you. So, it's an evaluation of what matters most. You might write the mission statement down where you can see it often. Then, schedule yourself a date to handle this. That will hold you accountable.I may blog more about this later.

  • Dave Shrein says:

    Great observations on the eminent issues with being too nice of a leader. I like how you say that wisdom is the alternative vs becoming something that you aren't… mean or other.

    Thanks for the post!