A CEO’s Problem with Being Too Nice
For my first 20 years in business as an entrepreneur, I was haunted by one fear above all others.
Not that I would go broke and lose my shirt.
I was afraid that I wouldn’t be liked.
I spent a LOT of energy worrying about how to keep my team happy. I didn’t want them to be upset, or angry. I didn’t want them to have to deal with things that were uncomfortable.
And I worried that if they got pushed “too far,” they would quit.
If you’re nodding along in agreement, I’m here to tell you: you have a problem. And so did I.
The problem is that when you are too focused on making sure everyone on your team is okay, you aren’t focused on making the best possible decisions for the business.
And at the end of the day, if there is no business, there are no people for you to take care of.
If you’re the CEO of a company, your job is to make the business successful. And to do that, you need talented, committed people on your team.
But the reality is that you don’t get the most out of those people—or even retain them—by shielding them from any difficulties.
You get the most out of them by setting clear expectations, creating a supportive environment, and putting them in a position that allows them to be successful.
It’s not about managing their feelings. Why? Because other people’s feelings aren’t actually yours to manage.
I learned this the hard way—by making this mistake over and over again.
It took far longer than it should have.
And it really cost me.
Are you making this mistake?
If you think “I hope they’re going to be okay with this” before giving your team difficult news, you’re probably too nice.
If you keep underperforming employees around? Too nice.
If you make financial decisions that benefit individuals but hurt the company? Too nice.
If you give into customer requests but complain about them behind their back? Too nice.
If you worry that you aren’t nice enough? Probably (definitely) too nice.
So, how nice is nice enough to be effective without actually being an a**hole?
This is my dead simple management continuum.
That’s right. You should be closer to “total jerk” than “super nice.”
That does not mean you ARE a total jerk! That would be all the way at the far end of the continuum, and I only want you about 60% of the way there.
But I find that this illustration really drives the point home.
You can still be kind. You can still be ethical. You can still do the right thing. But you can also do the right thing by your business.
And what I’ve seen again and again is that companies thrive when the CEO is willing and able to make tough decisions with humility, honesty, and transparency. Believe it or not, the nicest CEOs tend to have the highest employee attrition rates (and the highest customer churn).
Ultimately, if you’re worried about being a nice person, you’re unlikely to overcorrect in the wrong direction.
So keep on being nice.
Just not TOO nice. :)
P.S. If you struggle with this issue, you would likely benefit tremendously from some objective third-party advice. This is one of the biggest benefits of working with a consultant—the ability to get beyond the emotions and make the decisions that are truly best for your company. We’re here to help anytime.