As a leader, are you too nice?
As a leader, are you too nice? (Stock Free Images)

I was talking with a leader recently. She’s an incredibly kind and gentle person. She’s smart, hardworking and loyal. She’s a relational leader and usually brings out the best in people, so she’s had success in leadership. But she is currently experiencing problems in a new position and asked for my help.

In talking through the specific situation, it quickly became obvious that she has one weakness and it is currently affecting her entire team. It’s a common weakness among leaders. At times, most of us will struggle in this area.

Her weakness? She is too nice!

Granted, that doesn’t sound like it could ever be a weakness. And it has made her well-liked in the organization. She’s incredibly popular. And she likes that. But it also has made her team less successful than it could be. And she knows it.

Currently, a few team members are taking advantage of her niceness by underperforming in their roles. She hasn’t challenged the problems, even though she knows she should. She’s losing sleep over it but doesn’t know what to do. The relational leadership in her, which is a positive about her leadership style, is not working with these team members.

Perhaps you’ve seen this before in an organization. Maybe you’ve been on either side of this issue. If this is your situation, you have probably even thought or said things such as, “I gave them an inch and they took a mile.”

I am not suggesting one should become a mean leader. That would be wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be biblical leadership. I am suggesting one become a wise leader. Wisdom learns to guide people in the direction that’s best for them, the leader and the entire team or organization.

In the situation above, I advised my friend to take off her “nice hat,” at least temporarily, to address the few people causing the majority of the problems that are impacting the entire team. As hard as it will seem at first, in the end it will be a blessing for the entire team ... and my leader friend.

I have learned people accept the what better if they first understand the why, so then I shared with her why I feel her default niceness is causing current problems for the team.

Here are three problems with being too nice as a leader:

1. It’s bad for the leader. The leader ends up stressing over the wrong things. Instead of worrying about the big picture, the leader is focused on a few problems with usually only a few people. The leader feels unsuccessful, even like a failure at times, as the team achieves less-than-desired results.

2. It’s bad for the organization. The team suffers because a few people mess up the system and progress for everyone else. Those on the team who wish to do the right thing lose respect for the leader. Others will follow the example of those taking advantage of the leader and lower their own performance standards. The organization loses.

3. It’s bad for the person taking advantage of the leader’s niceness. Enabling bad behavior is never good for the underperforming team member. It keeps him or her from identifying their full potential and from realizing personal success. They may be a superstar if they were given structure and held accountable to complete their work. And they may never improve. Sometimes the best thing you can do for that person—certainly the team—is help them move on to something new.

Have you become too nice as a leader? Are you allowing problems to continue out of a fear of not being liked? There is nothing wrong with being a relational leader. That can be a great style of leadership, but part of developing any healthy relationship involves conflict, tough conversations and difficult decisions.

If you are not careful, you can become everyone’s friend but nobody’s leader. Leading is hard, some days harder than others. The sooner you handle the problem (and the problem people), the sooner things will begin to improve on your team for everyone. And the sooner you can get a good night’s rest.

Ron Edmondson is a church planter and pastor with a heart for strategy, leadership and marketing, especially geared toward developing churches and growing and improving the kingdom of God.

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