When I was a freshman in college, I was appointed to lead a group of student teaching assistants—something I struggled with because I was younger than many of them. My professor sat me down and gave me a firm pep talk, telling me that I was being too nice and needed to be a more commanding leader if we were going to be effective as a team.
Today, nearly (mumble, grumble) 15 years later, I pride myself on being a leader my team trusts and respects, but there are still times I ask myself, “Am I being too nice?”
While being understanding and supportive are important qualities for any manager, many of us struggle with being too nice. As modern managers try to break the mold of old-fashioned, hard-driving bosses, some have swung too far the other way. And in an era of telecommuting, flexible work schedules, and collaborative workspaces, drawing a line between boss and friend can be harder than ever.
But there’s a risk with that. If being “nice” leads to managers putting off addressing workplace issues, problems can fester within the team and mediocrity can flourish. And perhaps worst of all, team members may struggle to grow if they’re not pushed out of their comfort zones, ultimately damaging both the employee’s career development and overall team dynamics. When you think of it like that, being “too nice” isn’t very nice at all.
Wondering if you might be going a little too easy on your team? Here are three telltale signs you’ve crossed into “too-nice” territory:
1. You’re Slow to Make Decisions
When it comes time to make workplace changes or decisions that affect your team, do you feel the need to delay decision-making until you’ve weighed and discussed potential concerns with every member of your team? While you certainly don’t want to rule your team like a dictator, the inability to make decisions until you’ve gained the full support of your direct reports is a sure sign you’re taking the notion of inclusion too far.
2. You Make Excuses for Underperformers
When employees are struggling to meet performance standards for their job, perhaps you naturally fall into a more nurturing role. Do you find yourself making excuses for employees’ performance issues—especially those employees you like on a personal level? Remember, employees, particularly those who are struggling, need mentoring and support, not mothering and excuses.
3. You Find Yourself Playing Counselor
All good managers want their people to trust them, and when you spend upward of 50 hours a week with your colleagues, you are likely to be exposed to a lot of their personal life. However, if your direct reports regularly flop down at your desk to complain about their latest dating disaster or shed tears about an argument with a friend, chances are the lines between boss and friend are a bit blurry.
If this sounds like you, there’s good news: Acknowledging that you might be a “too-nice” boss is the first step toward improvement. If you’re not sure, try asking colleagues, friends, and even your boss for feedback. Or, try to find a mentor who you think strikes the right balance. Think about leaders you’ve met in your career who did a particularly good job nurturing and pushing their teams, and see if they’ll share insights with you.
With some small adjustments to your approach and attitude, you may quickly find your relationship with your direct reports evolves from one of “buddies” to one of mutual respect. And isn’t that a better foundation for shared fulfillment and success?
Photo of happy workers courtesy of Shutterstock.
Ann Melinger is vice president at Brilliant Ink, an employee-engagement consultancy with offices in Oakland and New York. She has spent the last 15 years helping communicators perform at the top of their game, and has counseled dozens of Fortune 1,000 companies on their internal communications challenges. She graduated with a dual degree in Public Relations and Policy Studies from Syracuse University.More from this Author