Top 10 myths of the nice leader

Being a nice leader goes against the grain of society’s fabric. Not because it’s unnatural but rather we hold up and exalt those who display the exact opposite qualities a nice leader would value. Consider the tomes written about the genius of Steve Jobs, or the lessons plied from Jack Welch. These men have reputations of being mean, condescending and outright tyrants.

Steve Jobs even regularly parked in handicapped spots for goodness sakes!

At the movies we don’t see Tom Cruise or Will Smith build rapport with the villain then use empathy and gratitude to positively influence their behaviour. No, they use cunningness, fortitude and they certainly don’t take prisoners.

So why does being a nice leader come with all the charm of a wet blanket? Simple: the myths surrounding what it means to be a nice leader outweigh the truths. Here are the top 10 myths of the nice leader.

10. Being nice really means you’re a pushover

No, being a pushover is not being nice it is being a pushover. If you let your coworkers talk you into everything they want at the expense of your, their colleagues or the company just so they’ll be happy then you are not a nice leader. A nice leader has the concerns of the individual, group and organization as a whole at heart and doesn’t bend to every special request just because it’s made.

9. The nice leader just wants to be liked

There is nothing wrong with being liked. But there is no way to be a nice leader and be universally liked. A common brother of wanting to be liked is insisting you don’t care if everyone likes you but you just want people to be happy. People are different and by practising true nice leader values like generosity and trust will be enough for some to think you’re crap. Trying to make everyone happy is like trying to negotiate and amicable divorce, to say it all worked out in the end is a farce.

8. You can’t discipline or fire people if you’re nice

At the core of being a nice leader is honesty. When you’re honest from the outset then you’ve given your direct reports clear instructions on how to be successful and when they falter from that path you use the other qualities (including honesty) to help them get back on track. Honestly allows you to communicate what continued performance like that will result in and it should be no surprise when they’re called in to your office to be fired. You can’t be a nice leader and let unacceptable behaviour go unchecked.

7. Nice leaders are interested in keeping the status quo

Ah groupthinkers. Those people at the meeting who protest at a change in paperwork like it’s been suggested the company should add kitten fur jackets to their winter offerings. After all, why change something that’s worked all along or why fix something that isn’t broken? Nice leaders are excited by new ideas and want to encourage their direct reports to go for it and trust that they’ll put their best efforts in. Groupthinkers relish the opportunity to put fresh blood in their place and keep new ideas down.

6. They apologize for everything

How can a nice leader be effective if they’re always saying sorry? It’s a valid point: you cannot be a nice leader if you feel the need to apologize all the time. Nice leaders are not afraid of apologizing when it’s appropriate. In fact sometimes an apology is appropriate when it wasn’t even the nice leader’s fault – heck – the thing being apologized for might have even occurred before the nice leader appeared on the scene. Apologizing builds bridges and opens up the recipient to all the other values of the nice leader but apologizing for everything builds distrust. When a colleague apologizes for everything it’s clear they’re probably interested in having myth number nine as your core value.

5. Nice leaders are insecure

Insecurity is a nice leader’s worst enemy. A nice leader needs to be confident in order to put into practice the six qualities of being a nice leader in the first place and insecurity will slowly eat away at each value. A multitude of reasons can be behind someone’s insecurity but a nice leader will have none of it. They’ll have no fear someone doesn’t like them (it’s probably something they can’t control anyway). They won’t be worried if they’re performing as expected (they’ll ensure they know what expectations are) and they won’t go out of their way to try to hard to win approval (approval and the “wins” will come as a result of their values).

4. They’re afraid of doing more work

There are lots of nice people in a work environment but the truly nice leaders will shine when change is introduced. Change by its nature will require more work and nice leaders look forward to the opportunity to put a new process through its paces. They look forward to helping their direct reports, peers and people they report to be successful. When change is afoot stress will go up and the nice leader will have lots of opportunities to flex their values but the ones who were nice until things started working differently, they’ll circle the wagons.

3. Being complacent is the same as being nice

This myth is based on an old maxim that if you’re not growing, you’re dying and in order to grow you can’t be nice. Being nice and appreciative of what you have is not akin to being growth adverse. Being happy and nice at work doesn’t mean you stop acting – living in a constant state of flux breeds unhappiness and can make leadership more difficult. Complacency is a bad thing for leadership. It certainly doesn’t speak to service or generosity as values. Nice leaders appreciate what they have an continue acting in a way that will eventually lead to more.

2. For nice leaders, failure is an option

Okay, so we have in our top 10 an actual truth. Failure is an option for nice leaders, continued failures are not. Nice leaders trust their reports to accomplish tasks and allow them the freedom to try new things. The caveat is they’ve been honest and already set the boundaries of that freedom along with expected outcomes. Failure is going to happen and the best thing the nice leader can do for their reports is let them fail, then help them learn and not repeat their mistake.

1. Nice guys/girls finish last

Long gone are the ads in comic books where the nice, skinny guys get sand kicked on him at the beach by a beefcake and his only way to retaliate is to bulk up himself. Nice leaders finish first and it’s not just hyperbole and anecdotal evidence that says so. Science is on the nice leader’s side too. A study at North Carolina State University and California State university shows that project managers got much better performance from their team when they treated team members with honesty, kindness and respect.

Further, Sir Richard Branson told Entrepreneur magazine Virgin was successful “because we engaged with everyone in a positive, inclusive manner rather than an aggressive, combative or negative way.”

This notion that nice guys/girls finish last went out around the same time jobs for life took a nose dive. Reputation matters and nice leaders have that sewn up in spades.

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