Are you naughty or nice?

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I walked out of my client’s office and thought to myself, “Wow, what a nice guy. So genuine and warm. He really understands how to make someone feel comfortable; he must be great to work for.” But by the time I got to my car, my thoughts had drifted to other “nice” people I had met over the years. Sometimes, after seeing them in action, it was evident their nice personality was really their Achilles heel—they were too nice. In other cases, the nice persona was merely a fa├žade, reserved for first meetings and public interactions—over time their real personalities showed through.
 
So, what is the right amount of “nice”? Here are some scenarios:
 
Linda is the owner of a staffing firm with twenty employees. She started the firm ten years ago and her first employees were her best friend and her sister. Over the years, she has hired people who were recommended by her close, trusted employees. She believes in creating a family atmosphere, so she doesn’t have too much structure; nor does she have many policies.
 
Linda was recently criticized by one of her newer employees. She pointed to the fact that Linda pays high bonuses to her long-time, loyal friends/employees, regardless of the job they are in, and she has allowed her friend to take more than thirty days off of work for things such as home repairs, veterinary visits and other personal business. In addition, she refuses to confront an employee who is performing poorly because she is “having problems at home.” Those problems have been going on for two years.
 
Nice isn’t very nice in this case. Linda treats her business associates as an extension of her family—to the detriment of her business. She is overgenerous to some, turns a blind eye to others, and is demotivating everyone else. In cultures such as this, employees quickly learn that whining, or being the owner’s pal, is a technique that gets rewarded. If you can tell a big enough sob story, you will get what you want. Linda is so worried about hurting someone’s feelings, or not accommodating their personal needs, she can’t see how she is creating an entitled, ungrateful group of manipulators. Meanwhile, hard workers, with a good work ethic, feel unfairly treated.
 
Paul is a department head who has six managers working for him. Paul can’t seem to stick to a decision. Here’s what happens: After a meeting is held and a decision has been made, inevitably, one of his staff will stop in to his office and start lobbying to make changes to the decision, or push to reverse it altogether. Because Paul is such a nice guy, he entertains everyone’s ideas and considers their view of the situation. So, he will let the person off the hook, or change his mind about the original decision.
 
Paul tries to please everyone and in the end pleases no one. Rather than pushing for honest dialogue during the meeting, he has meetings after meetings. Instead, he should be asking the lobbyist, “Why didn’t you bring this up in the meeting?” Paul doesn’t want to force a decision because he is worried about looking like a bad guy. People have learned that he is a pushover and doesn’t like conflict, so they lobby one-on-one to get their way. This breaks down trust in the group and breeds a highly political culture.
 
In my view, being nice has to do with treating people with respect and dignity. It means you care about your employees and their personal lives. But when decisions have to be made, for good business reasons, letting “nice” be your guide will lead you in the wrong direction. You can still be nice when you are saying “no.”


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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