Are you being too nice? - Michelle Gibbings

When you think of someone who is nice what characteristics spring to mind? Perhaps it’s someone who is helpful, kind, generous and thoughtful. They are usually positive traits.

However, as a leader if you are always seeking to be nice it can cause problems, particularly if the motivating drive behind your ‘niceness’ is a desire to be liked.

Many years ago, I worked for a person who didn’t like saying ‘no’ or disappointing people, and so he would say ‘yes’ to lots of things. The problem was he was also saying the same ‘yes’ to peers. For example, I’d be working on a project and ask for approval, and unknown to me one of my peers would be working on something that conflicted with what I was doing. Both of us were given a ‘yes’, even though the work conflicted. We would both stumble across this problem later, and then be left to find a way through the confusion. When we approached our manager with the issue his response was ‘I knew you two would sort it out eventually’.

In short, he didn’t want to be seen as the ‘bad guy’, as the person saying ‘no’ and so he would take the easy way out.  He would either sugar coat the message or say nothing at all.

There’s no doubt that it isn’t easy being a leader, and yet it’s made even harder if you are wanting everyone to like you.

As Pulitzer prize winning journalist, Herbert Swope said: “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody“.

Clear is kind
Author and Researcher, Brené Brown, uses the phrase ‘Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind’.

The power of that phrase is in its simplicity.

Think about it. When you give unclear instructions about what you want done, when you aren’t willing to step into the tough conversations, and when you aren’t willing to give feedback you aren’t being kind.

You are giving yourself the easy option. You aren’t spending time with your team members outlining your expectations, and you are stepping away from the conversations that you need to have.

Have the tough conversations
No one likes the uncomfortable conversation, and yet they are a critical part of effective leadership.

You can’t embrace the notion of leadership without being willing to step into the conversations that need to be had.

This is because a failure to talk about the hard stuff invariably creates an environment of stunted opportunity, slow progress and toxic behaviour.

As I’ve written about before, these types of conversations are good for you.

Take a stand
Great leaders make decisions on tough issues. They take a stand on what matters and are not afraid to risk their ‘popularity’ to ensure that good decisions with long term outcomes are obtained.

It’s very easy to point to examples of short-termism; particularly in political spheres, where politicians are shying away from the tough decisions as they keep their eye focused on opinion polls.

As the former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch said: “Leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions and gut calls.”

From my perspective, it’s not just leaders that need to step into the realm of tough calls, tough conversations and tough decision making. It’s all of us.

Ask yourself, are there:

  • Times when you are seeking likeability over leadership?
  • Tough conversations you have walked away from?
  • Team members you have been holding back giving feedback to?
  • Decisions you need to make that you’ve been avoiding?
  • Situations where you need to provide more clarity about your expectations?
  • Times when you need to spend more time outlining what you need?

It can feel nice to be nice, but when ‘niceness’ is an excuse it’s not helping anyone.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: or contact

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