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Are You Too Nice to be Taken Seriously as a Leader?

August 30, 2015

Everyone likes people who are kind, but at what point does a person’s niceness start to detract from her/his leadership strength…or is that even possible?

I think back to when I first started my career. I remember being a university student, sitting on my bed wearing PJs in rundown student housing, reading the business section of The Globe and Mail. I read about a company in the cosmetics industry that was struggling. I knew I wouldn’t be completing university for another two months, but something inside told me to pick up the phone and call their HR director to tell her/him how I wanted to help and then ask for a job.

I remember listening to the phone ring as I was connected to this individual, butterflies going wild in my stomach. When she answered, we had a nice conversation and then I asked for a job. She told me there were no jobs available at the time, but agreed to meet with me anyway the following week. By the time I walked out of this meeting, I had a job.

Fast forward three months later to a discussion I had with a respected colleague of that company. As she discussed a tough topic being faced by the organization, she giggled and said, “you are so sweet, I can’t imagine you getting involved in that issue.” I was stung by the fact she thought I couldn’t make the tough calls. I had started at that organization fairly boldly. But after some reflection, I can understand why she thought I was so innocent and sweet. I was nice, eager to please and enthusiastic as well as a good listener. All positive traits, right? But I do believe there is a fine balance between being nice and being taken seriously. Read on to find out how to still be authentically nice, yet be taken seriously as a leader.

As part of my own turnaround on the path to leadership, I needed to learn these lessons and I share them now with others:

1. Speak your mind. Often in meetings, there are times when you will get a gut instinct feeling to share information. But for whatever reason, you don’t talk. Maybe you don’t want to disrupt the flow of the discussion, draw attention to yourself or be wrong. But, I encourage you to follow through on this feeling. If you are sitting around the table to begin with, the group wants you to voice your ideas. The quickest path to stagnating your career is to just sit there and let the discussion go by.

2. Be authentically nice. We all hate suck ups, yet there are still a lot of people who find they are treating their superiors with extra kindness compared to those on their own teams. This is a sure sign you are not being authentically nice. You are being nice with a purpose of getting something. Eventually, people will see through this. Either your team will witness this behaviour and think you are being fake or your superiors will find you too agreeable. Be nice, in a way that feels right for you to everyone. And speak your mind to your superiors, just as you would to your team.

3. Is your niceness a coverup for facing the truth? Sometimes niceness is used as a way to protect yourself from being hurt or vulnerable. Is there a part of your life, either in the past or now, that is unpleasant or scary? Are you overcompensating somehow for something? Look at your life and start to reflect on the source of what makes you focus so much on being nice. The answer might surprise you. Do you wish others would be nicer to you and you are projecting out? Are you working too hard to please others? Just food for thought.

The key to finding the balance between being nice and being a strong leader comes down to authentic leadership. I will never change the fact that I care about people and want to connect with them. I think most people would subscribe to this notion themselves. But, I also know there are times in business I have had to make some tough calls and have those uncomfortable conversations. I know that it doesn’t serve either person to sugarcoat things just for me to save face and be ‘nice.’

It is all about perspective. If you remind yourself that you are speaking your mind or having a tough conversation because you care about someone or the organization, it will be easier to do the right thing.

And, I think the most important thing for people who may fear that they fall into the ‘too nice to be taken seriously as a leader’ category is it might be time to start being nicer to yourself. When you truly care for yourself, you tend to stop trying so hard to please others. It doesn’t matter what others say, you learn from your mistakes and carry on knowing that you have an amazing career and life because you deserve it!

If you are interested in strengthening your leadership style, check out my Executive Coaching Program NOW!!

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