beware the overly nice manager

Of all the qualities you don’t want in a manager, here’s one that you might not have thought about: overly nice.

If you have a boss who is too nice, one who allows her desire to be nice or to be liked to control the way she does business, you’ll find the following:

* The boss won’t make hard decisions or have hard conversations. One common way this plays out is in managers who won’t address performance problems or fire under-performers. But it plays out in other ways as well: For instance, a manager afraid of conflict may hesitate to make necessary course corrections mid-way through a project, but then isn’t happy with your final product. Good managers know that their job is to solve problems, not avoid them, and that they can’t value preserving harmony or avoiding tough conversations above all else.

* You’ll have a slacker working at the next desk over. Too-nice bosses often struggle to set standards, address problems, and enforce consequences — and if you’ve ever worked somewhere where laziness or shoddy work was tolerated, you know how frustrating and demoralizing this can be. Good people want to work with other good people, and they want to know that their boss is discerning when it comes to results. Employees’ quality of life goes up when in environments where standards are high, accountability is clear, and people can count on their coworkers to pull their own weight.

* You’ll receive fuzzy, unclear messages. Managers who are uncomfortable exercising authority directly often frame requirements as suggestions, resulting in staffers who are confused about expectations and managers who are frustrated that their “suggestions” aren’t taken seriously.

* You won’t get useful feedback. Good bosses tell employees how they can grow and develop, which necessarily entails pointing out things they could be doing differently, something too-nice managers often find awkward.

Ironically, too-nice managers eventually end up with the very thing they’re seeking to avoid: disgruntled, dissatisfied employees.

Obviously, the solution isn’t to go to the other end of the spectrum and become a jerk. Good managers avoid both extremes. Instead, they act with the confidence of their position – confidently laying out expectations and holding people to them, operating in a fair, positive, and straightforward manner, and backing up their words with action. They have a matter-of-fact attitude toward authority, seeing it as just one more tool in their toolbox for getting things done.

They’re also weirdly hard to find. If you have one, value him or her.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. class-factotum*

    I had a boss who was too nice. When someone wanted our offices (five of us), he let them have them. Without asking why. Without fighting. My team and I had to move to interior cubicles. In a converted warehouse. Thirteen miles away. NO covered parking. In a neighborhood where there were daytime carjackings, including at these offices. He wouldn’t fight for us.

    On our big project, where we were designing the to-be system for an SAP conversion, we had a lot of brainstorming sessions that required — REQUIRED — conflict as we discussed various options. He couldn’t stand it. He hated conflict. He would try to shut it down. You can’t have a brainstorming session without conflict. You can’t figure this stuff out without conflict. So when he was around, our meetings were completely unproductive.

    His boss was equally spineless, so instead of replacing him, they just added another layer of management, thus complicating the matter.

    The entire project failed. Fortunately, it wasn’t until two years after he had laid me off, so I accept no culpability!

  2. caregiver*

    Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

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