Are You Being Too Nice as a Manager?

Diverse Set of Smiling People

Being nice to your team members to spare their feelings can actually cause bigger issues than you might expect. You’re doing them a disservice if you’re not providing clear, actionable feedback they need to improve their performance.

Today’s post is by Janet Britcher, author of Zoom Leadership: Change Your Focus, Change Your Insights (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

With today’s workplace climate receiving more scrutiny about management behavior, it might be more tempting than ever to follow this motto as if it were good advice.

But is it a good thing?

Joyce was a nursing manager who lived by this motto, until she had a problem with a staff nurse Doreen, who provided care in patients’ homes. Doreen was a longtime employee, so she was knowledgeable about patient care as well as internal processes. However, when Joyce called her to ask her to see one more patient that day, Doreen said no, it would be inconvenient, even though she was not yet at the required number of daily patient visits, or hours in the day. Doreen’s response left Joyce stunned and speechless.

Other staff overheard the conversation, and other staff had to pick up for Doreen. In the past, even Joyce sometimes took on Doreen’s unfinished work, to be a good team player, resulting in overwhelm and resentment. The department knew Joyce was tolerating Doreen’s uncooperative behavior and lack of productivity. When a manager is too nice in this way, it does a disservice to the conscientious cooperative employees, who were beginning to transfer out of her department. This left Joyce more burdened.

When leaders are so concerned with harmony that they won’t confront poor productivity, success is sacrificed. How can a leader inspire and empower and still set clear goals and ensure achievement of them? As any sports team or music group knows, empowerment without guidelines creates chaos, not success.

The Remedy

Joyce needed to ensure all team members carried their weight. She needed to hold all her staff accountable and ensure her department results met her requirements. Rather than just say nothing, she needed to have a frank conversation with Doreen about the job requirements. She had to be respectful and clear about not only the quantitative responsibilities of number of visits, and the qualitative responsibilities of helping team members, but also reciprocating the respect with which she was treated by respecting her manager’s assignments, her team’s culture of helpfulness, and the reputation and financial viability of the organization. That conversation may need to be followed up in writing. Failure to meet the job requirement is essentially Doreen’s resignation – except that Joyce was paying her to stay even though she resigned some of her job responsibilities. Joyce needed to be clear that was no longer acceptable.

When leaders are clear about roles, responsibilities, and goals, and hold people accountable, everybody wins.

Just as being “nice” when confronted with Doreen’s unwillingness to meet the job requirements isn’t nice, leaders’ reluctance to speak up when they don’t have that proverbial “nice” thing to say is counterproductive. The manager pays the price, and the reliable employees pay the price. Nice isn’t nice when it is overly tolerant, resulting in mistakes or lack of productivity. Joyce realized she needed to raise the bar of expectations, for her own self-respect and job performance. She also realized the rest of her staff would benefit, too.

The only person who benefits from a “too nice” manager is the poor performer. Are you or somebody you work with too nice? If so, here is the way out:

∙    Maintain a respectful tone in communications even when intended to critique

∙    Ensure assignments have been clearly conveyed

∙    Set frequent milestones and follow-through to ensure staff are held accountable to them

∙    Clarify expectations and hold everyone accountable in the same way to ensure fairness

∙    Reinforce training if skills need to be developed

∙    Document shortcomings in performance

∙    Help staff own next steps and provide support where appropriate

Following these guidelines, it is possible to be both nice and an effective leader.

Zoom Leadership

Janet Britcher is the author of Zoom Leadership: Change Your Focus, Change Your Insights (CLICK HERE to get your copy). She provides executive coaching to managers being promoted. Janet brings 20 years of corporate leadership roles in Human Resources to her leadership development work, and she has personally managed groups of 60 employees. She holds an MBA with a concentration in Organization Development from Boston College. Additional studies include Gestalt Group Dynamics, Myers-Briggs, Jungian psychology, and Immunity to Change. She is a certified executive coach. Her business Transformation Management LLC is celebrating its 15th year. 

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