You’re Way Too Nice to Be a Leader!

By Kathy Cooperman


“You’re Too Nice For Your Own Good!”

A recent coaching client explained a concern as he moved into a high-level leadership role. He has frequently been told that he’s just too nice to be a global leader at his organization. In fact, he’s been warned that “people will eat you up!”.

Myth or Truth?

I’ve thought about this a great deal over the past few weeks. Is it true that “nice guys finish last?” Where is that fine line between caring too much about people and allowing them to walk all over you?

Working with this client has been fascinating as he completed a number of leader assessments, revealing a great deal about his personality, tendencies and preferences.

Just like with this client, self-awareness is key to being a better leader. He learned a great about his:

  • Conflict style and preferences
  • Personality traits (strengths, challenges and core values)
  • Perception of himself versus others’ perceptions of him (360 report)
  • Emotional intelligence

Putting all this information together allowed him to see how being “a nice guy” is actually his greatest asset.

Where’s That Fine Line?

Just like with my coaching client, it’s important to know yourself and your tendencies. This is best accomplished by working through some high quality leadership assessments.

Next, be clear about some essential elements in your role:

  • What are the expectations of your role?
  • What critical objectives must you achieve?
  • Who are your key stakeholders?
  • What relationships are essential to success in your role?
  • What else is absolutely critical to your success?
  • What’s the “health” of your team?

How do you know if you’re being too nice… in fact what others might call a pushover?

Signs That You’re Being A Pushover

There are some clear indicators that you may be teetering too close to the extreme of being a pushover. Have you received feedback or questioned yourself on any of the following? Do you typically:

  • Easily accept excuses when others don’t follow through on commitments?
  • Fall for any sob story that you’re told?
  • Spend too much time involved in the personal lives of direct reports?
  • Make excuses for employees who aren’t performing up to par?
  • Give in to almost every conflict (or at best compromise)?

Signs That You’re Nice and A Skilled Leader

Being a great leader involves caring about people–genuinely caring. It’s nearly impossible to achieve the hard, quantitative results without caring about people. In the short term, some leaders (or shall I say managers) pull this off. In the long run, however, creating a high-performing and loyal team requires letting people know that they are valued and appreciated. Here are some clear indicators that you’re a respected, “nice” leader:

  • Empathic–You sincerely care about the well-being of others (peers, direct reports, customers, etc.)
  • Great listener–You take time to listen to others’ wants, needs, opinions
  • Make sacrifices –You go that extra mile to help others
  • Reasonable–When true emergencies arise, you’re understanding and flexible
  • More concerned with finding a win-win solution than giving in when the stakes are high

Bottom Line

As with my coaching client, spend some time in self-discovery… that’s the first step. Decide if you’re too nice or if you’re nice and it’s your greatest asset as a leader.

The simple golden rule for leaders: Treat others with respect, really listen to understand and show your appreciation… always!

About the Author

Kathy Cooperman is an executive coach and a workshop facilitator and speaker. She works closely with clients to help them learn skills and behaviors that will help them for a lifetime. Kathy teaches a course on Presentation Skills at the University of Denver.

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