Employees led by "Mr. nice guy" finish last

Dear Joan:
Please help us deal with a boss who tries to be Mr. Nice Guy. People come and go when they please. He washes his hands of problems by stating that we are all independent contractors, therefore he can't stop poor work habits.

One loud, demanding employee can get anything while the rest are unable to get a brief moment of conversation. Added to this is the fact that he has numerous outside small business dealings and community activities. Another family member has some authority in the firm but that person gets emotionally "high strung," and only talks to a few people and is bogged down in details.

He talks about getting a manager to help. Pity the poor manager who now would try to establish some guidelines! The animals are running the zoo.

Mr. Nice Guy sounds like an irresponsible wimp. Nice guys like him really aren't very nice at all. In fact, by trying to please everyone they end up alienating them all.

Some nice guys try to maintain order and motivate employees by trying to get people to like them. Like parents who try to be liked rather than respected by their children, managers who don't set limits wonder why their employees become brats. Their mantra is "Let's all get along like one big happy family," yet they actually cause the conflicts because they are unwilling to establish and enforce the rules of fair play. Good employees wonder why they care more about the work environment than their boss and they resent their co-workers getting away with murder.

Other nice guys are indecisive. They can't make a decision because they don't want to offend anyone, therefore new ideas rarely see the light of day. Employees get frustrated and often end up wrestling over turf, priorities and goals since they aren't clearly established. The priority shift depending on who was able to influence Mr. Nice Guy last. Gridlock sets in and bright, eager employees grind the enamel off their teeth in frustration.

Still other nice guys are jovial incompetents. They seem to get promoted by ingratiating themselves to people above them. These boot-lickers usually are only worried about their own hides. Rather than establishing some guidelines and work rules, they simply wash their hands of their responsibilities. When things go wrong, they are quick to offer the guilty person to their boss as a sacrificial lamb.

They claim that adults should all be able to get along and it's not their job to baby-sit. They don't get it. Any group needs to work out the ground rules by which they will operate...that's what a leader is supposed to do. Whether it's ten-year-old's playing baseball on the sandlot or a group of vice presidents in the boardroom, the need is the same. If the rules aren't clear, they will spend more time preoccupied with what's not fair than playing the game at hand.

Nice guys are sometimes well-intentioned managers who think they're doing the right things. For instance, they think that empowerment means that employees should be able to do whatever they want. Unfortunately, they fail to realize that real empowerment can only occur when employees have a clear goal, complete information and they understand the parameters.

Other well-meaning nice guys think that they can't tell their employees what they need to improve. They are so worried about the effects of criticizing they don't give any corrective feedback at all. Poorly performing employees aren't brought back on track and good employees wonder how they're doing. In the end, both groups feel disrespected and underappreciated.

Who are the real "nice guys"? They are the leaders who establish rules for the things that create a level playing field, and guidelines for the rest. He or she knows that punishing everyone with excessively restrictive one-size-fits-all policies isn't the answer either. The reason they are called leaders is because they know how to create the work environment and set the example.

In your case, your Mr. Nice Guy seems to have his focus outside the business rather than in it. He doesn't seem committed to the organization or to the people he is responsible for managing. If he really was concerned about the company, he wouldn't care what kind of employees he was working with-temporary, contract, leased, employed-he would care about the results they were producing and the environment in which they work. It's time for him to pull himself back into his job and take responsibility for it. If he can't do that, perhaps one of his other business interests would be a better place for him.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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