I was just trying to be nice!

Someone recently asked me if they had to stop being a nice person to lead a team of people effectively?

I was shocked to be honest; I work with a broad range of leaders and to me they are all great people and are certainly nice. 

This person had recently witnessed some business owners suffering through losing some of their key employees and felt that their kindness had not been repaid by the employees. He was upset for them and it was tainting his view of leadership and people. 

I would love to say that this was an isolated view or the first time I had heard it but it isn’t as it seems to be one of the hardest things for people to understand about managing people and leading. 

Even more so within the world of small businesses where many people left their previous roles because of experiencing poor leadership and a desire to be their own boss. 

Well, I am happy to tell you that you can be nice, in fact, I would say that it is essential that you are! 

However, it is true to say that sometimes being nice without being significantly clear on what you need from someone can cause confusion and not always the results you wanted.

And to top that off you can become irritated and flip to being harsh as you feel your kindness is not being valued. 

We all know that feeling – when we just lose patience and instead of our normal kind, warm and understanding self we become overly harsh. 

We don’t like acting that way but we feel justified because the person just wasn’t “getting it”. 

So what is going on? And more importantly how do you prevent it? 

In simple terms sometimes when we are being nice, we forget to be clear and consistent with our message. 

Think about the first time a new employee is late back from lunch? It’s not the end of the world so you don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks so what do you do? 

A. Say nothing and just let it go?
B. Ask if everything is ok, do they have a problem with getting back in time?
C. Jokingly ask them if they’ve forgotten the time?
D. Tell them that they are late and if they are again there will be consequences? 

Which one did you choose? Which ones have you used? 

So now let’s think about the messages that 4 different actions could be giving: 

A. It’s ok to be late.
B. My boss notices when I am late but they care about me.
C. My boss makes me feel bad if I am late.
D. I am working in a sweatshop! 

These are extreme but hopefully you get the point. 

Now imagine that it is the 4th time in 2 weeks that they have been late. What are you feeling now?

A. I’ve been nice but now they are just taking the ****!
B. I know they check on their elderly mother in the hour but perhaps we should discuss a change in their hours to accommodate that.
C. Are they just laughing at me, time for a more formal chat, I think!
D. I wonder why they left? 

From one simple interaction we have 4 possible outcomes and most of them are negative. What did we actually do in those 4 different scenarios and how did that make the employee feel?

A. We let it slide – by saying nothing you feel you are being tolerant but the employee doesn’t know that, they think that you don’t care if they are late.
B. Address it in the first instance – by asking you have let the employee know that you noticed but also that you care about them and can do something about it. You have been clear that timekeeping is important but that you are happy to help if there is a problem.
C. This is similar to letting it go but it adds sarcasm into the mix, you think you are being “light-touch” by raising it but not in a serious manner but most people will feel uncomfortable with this approach and feel it personal rather than an issue of timekeeping.
D. Overly rigid- while you have made it clear you have been harsh and have not shown you care. The employee will most likely feel they won’t be listened to.

What is the answer?

The ideal is that we are holding people accountable while maintaining positive relationships. Which means not letting it slide, speaking clearly about the issue, showing care and consideration but being clear on what is expected.

Mhairi Richardson
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Mhairi Richardson

Mhairi specialises in coaching teams to help them achieve more and improve their wellbeing. Her focus is on building trust within the team and a combination of coaching, mentoring and facilitation and she can tailor the program to the needs of your business. She enjoys working with newly formed teams, established team or teams who just feel they should be achieving more. Mhairi is also a coach with a strong SME background, a focus on the detail, a high level of emotional intelligence and a strong desire to develop talent and grow high performing teams.