Anyone who takes on a leadership position in an organization has a tough line to walk.
On the one hand, leaders want to command respect among those they lead. They want to demonstrate empathy and support, and have a real interest in helping the careers of the best and brightest working for them.
On the other, good leaders must be tough enough to fight for their people. And no leader or manager wants to get walked all over by being too nice or too compliant. That kind of weakness makes it difficult to provide leadership through good times, much less difficult times.
So should managers choose compassionate leadership or “no more Mr. Nice Guy”?
Tough But Fair
It’s possible to become a tough leader without crossing the line into becoming the manager everyone can’t stand. While having clear expectations and timelines for work product from employees is good, also consider some of the following ideas to keep in mind.
Everyone is different: Trying to fit everyone into a “one size fits all” model is a fool’s errand. Each employee works differently and is motivated by different factors. Learn about your team and manage accordingly.
Purpose: An employee without a purpose is an employee who soon will cause a manager problems. Give employees a reason why their job is important beyond earning a paycheck.
Praise: Withholding praise or simply not recognizing good work leads to resentful employees. Take the time to both publicly and privately thank employees for doing something well.
Respect: Smart leaders show respect in many ways, including by providing: clear goals that don’t change without warning; communication that is detailed and thorough; and transparency in how the department operates. They also treat each employee with respect during private meetings.
Avoiding Being Too Nice
The trait of nice is an admirable one for family and friends. But with managers, that is not always the case. Some go too far and nice becomes a liability.
The Poynter Institute points out some of the issues that crop up for the too-nice manager. They include:
A sign that a leader has become too nice is if any of the above happens or executives and other managers point out the problem. Worse, it’s an issue if good employees point out these issues, such as a fellow employee getting away with substandard work for a long period of time with no consequences.
If expectations and goals are clearly set, then holding employees accountable is fair. Doing so does not make a person not nice. Also, it’s the key part of a manager’s job.
All of the above can help with earning employees’ respect.
Another issue to keep in mind is that fear is not a good leadership tool. The idea of wanting to be feared more than respected is antiquated. Leaders today need to practice fairness, transparency and good communication. They should reward good employees and deal immediately with underperforming ones.
In short, respect is something that is earned over time. It does not come with the job title.
Smart leaders get to know their team members and treat them like people, not cogs in an organizational machine. They practice active listening, they are consistent in their actions and they never lie.
These actions build trust and lead to respect.
As with everything that comes with leadership, the hard road is the right road. Becoming a tyrant or too nice are easy paths. Leaders who put in the time and effort will find they can be tough but fair while also earning their employees’ respect.