Can You Be “Nice” and Be an Effective Leader?


How many times have you heard the phrase, “You are too nice for your own good”?

Well, if you are nice, probably more often than you care to acknowledge or admit, and find that when this comment is made to you, you get a bit defensive and want to point out all the ways in which, you are in fact, not nice at all.

It can be particularly difficult to balance the “nice” part of our nature with what our culture endorses as an effective and efficient leader, especially in business. For example, in all my years as a volunteer leader, I was encouraged to be nice, considerate, compassionate, and caring. I was often celebrated for being just that with Thank You cards, phone messages, awards, and yes, even the occasional hug. When it comes to asking others to contribute their time, talent, energy, and effort as a volunteer, we expect our leaders who are doing the requesting to be nice.

But for my friends, and most notably my women friends, who find themselves in positions of leadership in business, “nice” is often seen as a weakness, and compassion, a sign of incompetency. Because… “nice guys finish last.”

So I was recently asked, “can you be ‘nice’ and be an effective, or even exemplary boss?”

I believe you can be. And here’s why:

Work is about the relationships you have with the people you work with, not just the job you are assigned to do. Work takes up a specific amount of our time, and in order to be productive during that time, we should find that the time is well spent…with the people we have built relationships with.

The Human Resource department at your place of employment can give you a test to help you (and your boss) understand your “work personality.” Are you a gold? A “high I”? Do you best work alone, or in groups? And all of that helps create a healthy work flow or synergy so that the individual employee can interact with their colleagues and be productive.

But overwhelmingly when I speak to my friends about their jobs, while they do mention the work they do, more often than not, they talk in length about the relationships they have with their co-workers. And most importantly, their boss. Many friends insist that when their boss is negative, pushy, insincere, or insensitive, it makes it exceedingly difficult to get the work done. They feel under-appreciated or attacked and it creates an adversarial relationship, which in turn creates a toxic work environment

In a culture that continually emphasizes being respectful, kind, courteous, and giving, especially when it comes to one’s fellow man, when a boss exhibits those traits they are seen by others in the business as weak. Yet I’m sure that if we looked statistically at who the most productive employees are, you would find that they are the ones who believe that they have the nicest boss. A boss who understands the nuances of life and is accommodating and supportive. A person who is willing to listen but holds them accountable for their actions. A boss who is constructive in their criticism because they genuinely want their employees to succeed and work together to create a culture of community and inclusion.

Being nice doesn’t mean you don’t expect your employees to do high quality work, honor their commitments, or manage their time effectively. Being nice means you are considerate enough towards those with whom you have built substantial relationships so that they can do all those things in a healthy and respectful way.

Being nice doesn’t mean being a doormat – being nice means opening the door and inviting someone in. Whether in the workplace or in the world, being nice means treating others how you would like to be treated. And if there isn’t a place for that in your workplace, I suggest finding another place to work.

 What are your thoughts? Do you think you can be “nice” and still be an effective leader? We’d love to hear from you!

4 Responses to “Can You Be “Nice” and Be an Effective Leader?”

  1. I have encountered this when I worked in a business environment – niceness was viewed as a weakness. I was told, “You give people an inch, they’ll take a foot.” As I saw female “nice” co-workers move up higher in the corporate world, there always seemed to be a shift where they became “bitchy” and were no longer nice. It was like they had to “play the game” with the guys at the top and prove they were tough. I did have a boss who was high up and she was nice. She was respected and got the job done. Everyone who worked for her was very loyal so we were all productive. This gives me hope because it means it can be done – be nice and be a respected, effective leader.

    Bicultural Mama
  2. I totally agree with Myrdin Thompson’s article. A good leader is someone who is nice and empathetic but also fair and consistent, i have worked with both types of leaders and know from experience that the the nice, fair and consistent leader will always get good efficiency, productivity and the all important added value out of their teams/employees. I firmly believe that treating people the way you would like to be treated; no matter what the situation, is the way forward for leaders.

    Deborah Banting
  3. Good question and piece! I believe the most important criteria relative to effectiveness as a leader is fairness. Therefore, yes, you can be nice as well as effective. I have seen this go the other way, where leaders so badly wanted to be liked, that they didn’t enforce performance-based standards consistently. Therefore, they thought they were nice and high performers thought they were unfair. Fairness is nice. And yes, you can be compassionate, warm and a nice person as well.

    Suz Murphy

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