Why Being Nice Makes You a Better Leader
For far too long, being nice has been mistaken for being weak, and Fran Hauser, a startup investor and longtime media executive, is on a mission to change that.
There are plenty of women who believe being a bitch helped them succeed, but Fran says you don’t have to be a bitch (or a jerk) to be the boss. That’s why she wrote The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018): to challenge the notion that you cannot be both kind and successful.
“In reality, niceness is an essential quality of leadership for the world we’re living in. It’s a superpower that can unlock all sorts of potential and possibility we’re currently missing,” Fran says. “There’s actually something very wrong when kindness isn’t part of the picture when it comes to our leaders. When kindness isn’t modeled and celebrated, we find ourselves in a workplace environment that is, at worst, toxic, and at its best, fails to allow us to reach our full potential and share the best of ourselves with others. And people are clamoring for a better, more human, nicer style of leadership.”
If you’re a boss, Fran suggests taking the lead on creating an environment rooted in respect, trust, and kindness. Below are Fran’s five ways you can be nicer and stronger — and get better results — in your role as a leader.
1. Speak up.
By hiding behind a facade of agreeableness, Fran says you’re hijacking your own effectiveness and not leaving a great impression of your strength and value. “It’s OK to push back if you do it respectfully. The key to disagreeing respectfully is staying positive — don’t just say it’s a bad idea. Instead, suggest a better solution and your reasoning behind it. Also, demonstrate that you invested the time to understand the other person’s point of view — this is usually a good way to defuse the situation.”
2. Give feedback.
When you build a strong relationship with your team and care deeply about them and their careers, it can be a struggle to give tough feedback. But Fran says avoiding delivering negative feedback can make you seem like a pushover and, frankly, a bad mentor or boss. “You’re also doing a disservice to the employee who would benefit from constructive criticism (‘constructive’ being the key),” she adds. “Give feedback that’s nice and direct by presenting the information in an empathetic and supportive way. Position it as helpful advice rather than harsh critique.” Fran suggests starting on a positive note about the person’s performance — something that is true and meaningful, and that doesn’t feel like a throwaway. For example: I’m really impressed with how thorough your analysis has been. Then move on to the “issue.” Say: I want to be helpful and better understand what’s driving the problem (e.g., missed deadlines). Fran says don’t get personal: Focus on the facts. Give specific examples and paint a broader context. For example: Sloppy financial reports can give people a lack of confidence in your numbers. “Ask questions and make it a dialogue, not a one-sided lecture. When you leverage your kindness to give feedback empathetically, the conversations become more pleasant and effective for everyone involved.”
Fran says you should never be afraid to ask for what you deserve. “Use your relational skills to negotiate strategically in a way that’s good for you and the company,” she advises. “Focus on the company’s goals and the true value you add to the organization instead of all the reasons you feel you want a higher salary. Data talks — gather as much as possible to use as backup. This can be data about your accomplishments or salary data from peers at other companies. Sometimes the value you’ve added is not tied to a specific project but that you’ve created a culture for your team that has resulted in improved morale and retention.”
“Career success is increasingly defined not just by how many hours you spend at your computer but also your ability to connect to others, to incorporate outside perspectives, and to navigate groups. These are essential skills in today’s ultraconnected world because no one and nothing exists in a vacuum. This means connecting the dots between ideas, businesses, and people. As a kind woman, you have an advantage here as long as you get away from your desk because a lot of this connection requires the very people skills that you have spent a lifetime developing,” Fran says. If you aren’t investing in yourself and networking, she adds, you won’t acquire the experiences and insights that will lead to connecting the dots.
5. Make decisions.
As a leader, you need to be able to make decisions that might upset others. “Yes, it’s essential to think everything through from multiple perspectives and get buy-in and advice from colleagues, but at the end of the day, a leader has to be able to stand in her own shoes, make a clear decision, and then own the results of that decision,” Fran says. “Once you make the decision, thank everyone you’ve consulted for his or her input. Acknowledge that your decision isn’t going to make everyone happy, but express that you feel strongly that it’s the right direction. It’s better to make a decision swiftly to avoid being perceived as wishy-washy and so you can all move forward.”