Why Nice Guys (and Gals) Finish Last


Over the years, I’ve written and spoken numerous times on how being nice can backfire. When you’re dealing with someone who is focused on the issue or hasn’t yet chosen a relationship with you, being “nice” can actually decrease their receptivity toward you or your ideas.

But in addition to dealing with specific people, there’s a whole other time when being “nice” is the dead wrong choice: when you’re the leader.

When you’re a leader, your job is to maintain the health of your group and move toward your goal even, sometimes, at the expense of the individual. This is why leadership is hard. Leaders understand group dynamics and work to keep their group productive and satisfied. Leaders cannot and will not allow one person to destroy the morale or the progress of the whole group.

One of my clients manages a small team of seasoned employees who mostly work well together—except for one member who consistently derails meetings, needs hand-holding from coworkers to perform basic job functions, and falls behind on projects until others rescue her.

“How long are you going to let this continue?” I asked my client. “The more time and patience you give this employee, the more you lose credibility and support from the rest of the team.”

I’m not saying to be a jerk. There’s no room for bullying, intimidation, or tyranny in leadership. But leaders have to be willing to make tough choices, and follow through on them, for the health and well-being of the entire group.

If someone on your team isn’t pulling his weight, that destroys morale. If a member of your department consistently belittles and derides others, that destroys morale. When bad behavior goes unchecked day after day after day, the group as a whole suffers. And soon, you’ve not only destroyed morale, but your ability to move forward and meet your goals, too. Why work hard for a leader who hasn’t got your back?

Another coaching client recently complained, “The people at this organization who get things done get more and more work piled on, and the slackers just skate by.” Why? Because the leadership isn’t willing to hold people accountable.

It might seem easier to let the good workers do all the work, but how long do you think a company like that is going to keep those good workers? Not long. As my client said, “If you don’t get rid of the bad ones, you lose the good ones.”

It’s hard, though, to hold people accountable because they don’t always like you when you do so. They’d prefer you just be nice! That’s why it takes confidence and conviction to enforce consequences, and why not everyone can or will do it. But no one benefits from a lack of discipline except for the person in charge—and that “benefit” is extremely short-lived.

It’s no fun to enforce consequences. In fact, it SUCKS. But that’s what it takes to be a good leader, whether you’re a project manager, a CEO, or a parent.

Good leaders keep their long-term vision and the health of their group in mind at all times. They make decisions based on how it will impact the team’s goals and well-being. And if one individual on the team is sabotaging either of those things, either by being too aggressive (bullying) or too laid-back (slacking), good leaders take care of it. That means making tough decisions and sometimes being seen as the bad guy. But in the long run, only those who can do so will move themselves and their team forward and reach success.

Unless you want to finish last, don’t be nice. Be a leader.


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