Most people think leadership is about being – a) compassionate and helpful, b) generous and understanding, and c) empathetic and trusting. In my experience, these are also the traits of a frail leader who cannot make tough decisions and serve the company or the team’s best interests. It’s easier to be nice, too nice, in fact. At the same time, being a nice leader is also the catalyst to lazy, irresponsible, inefficient, and harmful management, which ultimately hurt the company, investors, and themselves.
When you hire a ‘nice’ leader, the first thing you’re going to notice is the pleasant demeanor, the trustworthiness, and their values. Unfortunately, these are the same signs that lead to finger-pointing in an organization, lack of cross-functional alignment, conflict aversion, and self-preserving behaviors.
In a Harvard study of more than 2,000 CEOs, it was found that there are some very negative consequences of having a lack of a dictatorial leader in the office. You see, the problem is not a nasty boss or a tyrannical boss – but, an amicable and empathetic leader.
Being a nice leader is much more than being caring and effective. Executives with high decisiveness are 12 times more likely to deliver stellar performance. The findings also show that CEOs whose strengths were decisiveness and driving business performance outperformed CEOs who were amicable.
Geoff Smart, Randy Street, and Alan Foster in their book Power Score: Your Formula for Leadership Success, noted that a group’s performance is driven by three significant factors: talent, priorities, and relationships. The downside of the boss being just too nice is linked to the aforementioned three factors.
Talent: When you are being a good leader, who are allowing negligent, mediocre performers to remain in the company. This has a huge negative impact on the team morale and results. Many times, a CEO who sets a high bar for performance has also to deal with supporting long-tenured, loyal but mediocre talent. So when companies start supporting subpar performers, they subsequently become vulnerable to a plunge in market share. Worse, they lose star performers to competitors.
Priorities: Being a nice leader doesn’t mean you have to say ‘yes’ to everything. Learn to say NO. You may feel that you are boosting team morale and loyalty by letting them know that they’re being included and heard. However, the truth is miles apart. When you’re being an amicable leader, you’re also paralyzing productivity and results, because you just can’t face disappointing people even when they’re wrong.
A leader’s job is to allocate resources throughout the company with a sense of fairness so they can do their job. Meanwhile, they can focus on what they’re hired for – driving the company towards success by staying focused.
Relationships: Conflict aversion is one of the hallmarks of being a good leader. Such leaders often misinterpret collaboration for frictionless. If you’re one such leader, you need to learn that you will have to deliver tough feedback even when you know that it’s going to hurt the morale and damage your relationship with your team. By clinging to conflict aversion, you’re keeping yourself from giving constructive feedback and denying your team the opportunity to learn and grow. Underperformance, after all, is the hallmarks of failure.
By any means, if you’re a kind and empathetic leader, you need to refocus on the bottom-line. After all, there is a very thin line between amicable and ineffective.