Too Nice

Some leaders are tenacious “drivers,” who get results and persevere, but leave a trail of dead bodies along the way. They are the bulls in the china shop, the steamrollers. Their 360s say things like “harsh” and “aggressive.” Empathy is not their strong suit, but creating a sense of urgency is. It’s all about action.

There is another tribe: leaders accused of being “too nice.” Their 360s say things like, “He’s a yes-man,” or “She’s too agreeable.” These folks are strong at building teams and establishing trust. The downfall is they can come across as passive or accommodating – there’s too much acquiescing.


(Of course, there are hybrids and additional categories; people never fall neatly into two groups.) Let’s talk Too Nice.

Once I interviewed a VP of Operations for input on his colleague – he came right out and said, “Lori, you need to make Jacob more of an asshole.” Seriously. And don’t think I’ve only heard that once.

Where is that place between passive and aggressive? (Assertive can be hard ground to find.) Nice leaders have valuable skill sets and knowledge, they have coveted people-management tools, but speaking up consistently (especially with Senior Execs) can prove a challenge. There is a tendency to go quiet or fall into roles of peace-makers or people-pleasers. They over-think things. (I’m totally guilty on the latter).

People wince when I overuse the word confidence. Who wants to be a leader with low self-confidence? How could you even be in a leadership position without a share of moxie? It’s not Black & White. There is not Confident vs. Not Confident.

Examples: Mike is confident in his knowledge of the product. Sarah is confident in her ability to see the big picture. Brian is confident in building strong and trusting relationships with his customers. Tom is confident in his 25 years in the industry.

The confidence factor to develop is a willingness to state our own opinions, a conviction to show bias, the courage to speak thoughts out loud and create possible dissent.

Being agreeable is often a value. Being a team-player is critical. Some of us worry that sharing our perspective will create tension, or make us unpopular. It might invite unwanted attention, or name the elephant in the room. Once we open our mouths, there’s no going back….so we wait too long and sometimes miss our chance.

But what are the risks of notsharing your ideas or opinions? What are the consequences of keeping your mouth shut – to the company, the business unit, and yourself? What is the underlying fear?

Why is it so hard?

  • Our behaviors are developed and reinforced by the roles we’ve played for decades. We learn early on how to adapt to our environment, how to avoid punishment, how to seek reward. By the time we’re managing and leading organizations, these behaviors have become habits.
  • Many of us are on a quest for the Gold Star. We seek approval. We are rewarded by praise, bonuses, promotions, or favorable reviews. Sometimes what we seek is acceptance, and that can be at the cost of getting results.
  • Regular criticism and judgement have conditioned us to be overly dependent on the opinions of our bosses and people in positions of power. The consequence is that we can lose faith in our own judgment and perspective.
  • We don’t have enough good examples. I can’t tell you how many clients have told me that they don’t speak up for fear of looking arrogant or aggressive.

Our opinions do matter. Adults can be respectful while disagreeing. Leaders cannot always keep the peace, if doing so will make them a part of the problem. We can learn to speak our minds without becoming assholes.

Where do you need to speak up?

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