Are You Too Nice To Be A Great Manager?

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 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:

  1. I am not a "bossy" person. I think of myself as a nice person who happens to be a manager.
  2. I dislike conflict and the emotions that result from it.
  3. I have a need to be liked and avoid actions that may cause others to dislike me.
  4. I don't want to hurt my relationships with employees.
  5. I am uncomfortable judging others.
  6. My employees are friends. I don't talk to my friends in a Requiring way.
  7. 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.

Define: “nice”

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

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