What Great Bosses Know about the 7 deadly sins of the too-nice boss

Let’s hear it for bosses with heart. You know, the ones who:

If that’s you, congratulations! Your good head for business and gracious heart for people can be a winning management combination. It could lead you to become a bona fide Great Boss.

That is, unless you’re just too darn nice.

I see it fairly often in the 360-degree feedback received by some managers in our seminars. They’re applauded for their agreeable nature, for their encouragement and empathy, for their work ethic and their team approach. And after all that, colleagues may tactfully suggest that these bosses are too darn nice for their own — and the team’s — good.

It generally happens when the manager with the big heart is also conflict averse; better at being a soft touch than tough but fair. So what happens when the boss is too benevolent?

The Seven Deadly Sins of the Too-Nice Boss:

1. Your ideas get overshadowed by others in the organization who are more assertive about making their cases.

2. Workplace problems fester as you postpone dealing with them.

3. Mediocrity flourishes as you hold back from challenging underperformers.

4. Needed change is delayed as you hesitate to nudge people out of their comfort zones.

5. You do other peoples’ work when they complain about schedules, shifts or duties.

6. Bullies and bigmouths win.

7. You can lose respect — from your bosses, other managers, your staff — or all of them.

How do you know if you’re too nice?

You’ll probably hear about it first from your own bosses. While you take it seriously, you may rationalize a bit and assume they’re being overly critical. After all, they don’t know your people and their pressure points as well as you do. You may worry that they just want results — results you believe you’re achieving, but in your own way.

Some too-nice bosses get the word from a fellow manager — someone who sees from a nearby vantage point or hears through a good grapevine that your gentle ways are generating problems.

But the real wake-up call comes when your best employees break the news to you. I’ve seen this often among the managers I coach. They finally get the message when it comes from respected staff. When people on the team encourage a boss to hold people accountable, give negative as well as positive feedback, and delegate more work — managers finally realize that the kindest thing they can do for everyone is to become a little less nice.

In a future column, I’ll spell out how too-nice bosses can change their ways without becoming tyrants. But first, how might you check to see if you’re overdosing on niceness? How can you find out without coming across weird or wimpy in the process?

I’ll share some tips in today’s podcast: What Great Bosses Know about the Too-Nice Boss:

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

You can download the complete series of these podcasts free on iTunes U.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Jill, this is an excellent list … I plan to share it to my clients and colleagues and post it on my computer as a reminder. Learning to be a transparent communicator, provide positive and constructive feedback with supporting examples, and initiate difficult / sensitive conversations is a must for every manager to succeed in today’s business world. Thank YOU!

  • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyBerry Tim Berry

    Jill, thanks, this is a great list, and I think a really important reminder of a real problem that happens all the time. We so much want to be liked, to be the “nice” person, that it’s hard to do the real job of management, which involves telling the whole truth as you you see it, not just the part of the truth that isn’t uncomfortable or awkward.

    I posted something related to this on my blog a few months ago, about how nice people can be bad bosses. I wish I’d had your list of consequences when I posted that one. ( http://timberry.bplans.com/2010/09/nice-people-can-be-bad-bosses-way-too-often.html )

    Tim