A recent HBR article titled 3 Ways Senior Leaders Create a Toxic Culture by Ron Carucci notes: “the people at the top of an organization have a disproportionate level of influence over those they lead.”
Considering this disproportionate influence, have you ever thought that “nice” leaders can be dangerous? A “nice” leader could be defined as someone who cares, with great energy, who smiles a lot, warmly welcomes, thinks they want the best for you and tells you so. They portray themselves as open in a way that draws you in and entices you to want to be your best around them. They believe they honor you by giving advice and showing you the way and, they thrive in their leadership role. So what could be dangerous about such a person? Here are 3 dangers of “nice” leaders.
1. They are blinded by niceness
They are so busy caring they can’t “see” others and therefore don’t realize they are wearing them down vs. building them up. The “nice” leader perceives him/herself to connect well with others and is unaware, in fact, that the connection is superficial based on a one-sided optimistic view of a given situation. The danger in being “nice” lies in failing to listen, not only what is said, but to what is unsaid (body language, tone of voice, energy level, pace of conversation). When a team member seeks to address a disappointment, hurt, frustration, anxiety, a “nice” leader immediately responds by offering unsolicited advice and generously giving tips intended to address the matter. This leaves team members feeling unheard and under-valued. Fixing someone’s problem ignores their creativity and resourcefulness. This lack of acknowledgement engenders distrust. If a team member has the courage to raise this with a “nice” leader, the leader is often surprised to learn they are difficult to trust.
2. They lead people astray, away from their authentic selves
Often times a “nice” leader’s high energy, confidence and utopian outlook is admired by others. It can become the standard to aspire to and anything less can seem inferior. In their desire to raise their standard and catch some of the leader’s positive radiance and influence, team members may find themselves feeling obliged to agree with the leader when they otherwise may not. A team member with an alternative view may perceive themselves to the odd-man-out, the Debbie-Downer, the Negative-Nancy, and be unwilling to rock that leader’s boat! Given the hierarchy they find themselves bending and flexing in order to please, after all who wants to disappoint their “nice” leader? The danger here is the “nice” leader is oblivious to the pressure created by their leadership approach as individual authenticity is eroded by the inclination, intention and struggle to live up to the exceptional ideal portrayed by the leader.
3. They create a toxic culture
Given the “nice” lens that they are intent on looking and living through, their perception of an unfavorable reality is obscured, or simply they refuse recognize what is. They will not openly and frankly address matters such as weak performance, lack of dedication, commitment, and general disengagement. Tackling these issues would cause a “nice” leader to break-away from their dreamland of perfection which must be maintained at all costs. This leaves high performing members to wonder if their efforts are noticed or appreciated as the leader treats all members with kind words, praises and positive recognition no matter what level of input, effort or success they achieve. Failure to have the difficult conversations is a disservice, not only to the person in need of adjustment or correction but also, to those who excel. This dangerous leadership style is a breeding ground for low morale, low productivity and a toxic team culture.
Coaching provides leaders with an opportunity to gain self-awareness and explore all aspects of their leadership style, identifying what is most effective and what creates hurdles for themselves and their team members. The coaching process provides a safe yet challenging space to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses and strategise a way forward. Time to wake up to the fact that even “nice” leaders need a good coach!