Are You Too Nice To Be A Great Manager?
April 20, 2011
Topicscoach, Leadership Development, manage people, manager, people management, performance management, require
In an earlier post, I offered the theory that all good managers have easy access to two fundamental skill sets: Relating (which includes asking, listening, including, coaching and encouraging) and Requiring (which involves creating expectations, focusing on goals, insisting on excellence, setting appropriate controls, asserting views and confronting problems).
Over half the managers who have completed the free assessment at www.ManagingPeopleBetter.com are Relaters. They find it easier and more natural to use the Relating skills rather than the Requiring ones. Almost 80% of these Relaters under-Require. They either under-use or don’t know how to use the Requiring skills.
Mindsets that limit your effectiveness as a manager
For thirty years, I've asked managers who have difficulty Requiring what blocks them from doing it, and their answers haven't changed much over time. They usually cite some combination of the following themes:
- I am not a "bossy" person. I think of myself as a nice person who happens to be a manager.
- I dislike conflict and the emotions that result from it.
- I have a need to be liked and avoid actions that may cause others to dislike me.
- I don't want to hurt my relationships with employees.
- I am uncomfortable judging others.
- My employees are friends. I don't talk to my friends in a Requiring way.
- I'm oriented to meeting other people's needs and have a tougher time getting my own needs met.
The overall message: "I view myself as a kind, nice person. I want my employees to have that same view of me. I believe I would have to become "meaner" to be more Requiring and that would be very uncomfortable."
These managers know they often settle for mediocre performance. They may put up with less-than-excellent customer service, unmet productivity targets, or questionable quality in an effort to be a likable manager. They know they would be more effective if they could ask for what they want (without guilt) and insist on excellence (without worrying so much about how their corrections are being received). But they are uncertain how to assert without getting a bad result.
Here’s the problem I see. You are misunderstanding what is nice and what is mean. Is it mean or nice to withhold information employees need to grow and do their jobs more effectively? Is it mean or nice to let your group suffer because one of the workers isn’t pulling his/her weight? Is it mean or nice to communicate what you want and expect from your people?
You don't need to be meaner to Require—you need to be nicer. Give employees the information they need to grow and accomplish more. Take proactive steps to resolve issues that interfere with top performance. Communicate what you expect upfront.
Insisting on excellence is nicer to employees than accepting mediocre work, because employees want to be on a winning team, not a limping one.
What you want most is to have good long-term relationships with your people. If you could give up trying to please your employees in every interaction—and realize that necessary communication may occasionally upset someone—you would be able to Require more easily. This can lead to achieving the long-term relationship you seek (or if not, you can try again with a more interested, capable replacement employee).
The employment relationship may result in a friendship, but that is not your primary goal. Your job as a manager is to help employees reach their potential and to help your team deliver great work. You can only do this with the regular use of Requiring skills.
Are you ready to Require more?
(Note: If you’d like to find out where you are on the Relating and Requiring scales, visit the free assessment at www.ManagingPeopleBetter.com.)
I find: “I believe I would have to become “meaner” to be more Requiring and that would be very uncomfortable.” also to be the case that lots of managers falsely believe in. I also like you’re explanation of nice vs mean. Great point.
Pete, thanks for a great post. Your perspective lines up with mine 100%! The least-nice thing any manager can do is allow their team to under-perform their potential. It’s not fair to the high-achieving people. Every manager needs to decide who will approve of their performance. If you want mediocre performers to approve of you as a manager, you’re playing to the wrong audience!
This post brings excellent perspective to what is obviously a widespread challenge many managers face. I am presently coaching a manager who has taken the pendulum so far to the relating side that she has begun making excuses for the substandard performance of team members from which she has failed to require better results. I will be sharing this post with her today. Thanks for a great post.
Thanks, Jean, Mike and Kevin. I have not thought about the concept of thinking about which employees you are trying to please as a manager, but the idea of playing to the best performers is an interesting idea. That would suggest that when getting employee input, it would be nice, but probably impossible, to get input from the best performers. We routinely get input from all employees working for the manager.
Hi Peter. Great post! I have often been described as “the nicest person I’ve met”, and sometimes struggle with holding others accountable. Knowing this is a challenge for me, I continuously strive to focus on requirements. On the flip side, my patience with people has allowed me to “salvage” a handful of employees over the years. I’ve been successful where others that are more “Requiring” have failed. I’m curious, of the Requirers, how many under Relate?
Thanks for the post!
My favorite part of this article is that you were able to share here how ineffective it is for managers to avoid conflicts and actions that may cause other staff to dislike them. Well, you also have a point that it would be best to insist on excellent work from the employees rather than settling for their mediocre job. If I were to apply as a manager someday, I’ll probably look for a corporate level strategy consulting service that conducts seminars that will help improve the attendees’ leadership skills.