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You Can Be Too Nice February 27, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a good article on the perils of the too-nice boss: one who is reluctant to confront problems for fear that he or she will offend someone or hurt their feelings.  This is such a common problem among leaders at all levels that I thought it was worth addressing further.

One part of being an effective leader is that you must be able to confront people with bad news and negative feedback.  It is crucial to their success (and thus yours) that you be able to do this confidently and with the goal of correcting whatever is wrong.

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, especially when it is personal and potentially hurtful.  As leaders, we must learn to be tactful and sensitive so that we can reach people and help them through the issue at hand.  Everyone has a different personal style, but we should all be careful to handle negative feedback delicately but consistently.

Many managers, for fear of being disliked or making people unhappy, will simply avoid an issue.  This is the worst possible approach, for several reasons:

  • The problem does not get solved.  More than likely, it gets worse when left unchecked.
  • The problem person may be blissfully unaware, but everyone else is not.  Teams are excruciatingly aware of problems among themselves.  If you fail to address a problem person, the rest of the team will lose respect for your leadership.
  • People will stop bringing issues to your attention, since you do nothing about them.  At some point, you’ll no longer even know what needs to be fixed, and your team (and you) will fail.

It has been my experience that almost every time I’ve approached someone about a problem, they have risen to the occasion, fixed the situation, and later come back to thank me for recognizing the issue and getting them to take action.  Many people often need a little prodding to see an issue, a little coaching to find a solution, and a little support to make the solution work.  As leaders, that’s our key role.  Don’t let your fear of confrontation undermine your ability to truly lead.

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