Of all the qualities you don't want in a manager, here's one that you might not have thought about: overly nice.
If you have a boss who is too nice--one who allows her desire to be nice, or liked, to control the way she does business--you'll find the following:
- The boss won't make hard decisions or have hard conversations. One common way this plays out is in managers who won’t address performance problems or fire underperformers. But it plays out in other ways as well. For example, a manager who's afraid of conflict may hesitate to make necessary course corrections mid-way through a project, but then be unhappy with your final product. Good managers know that their job is to solve problems, not avoid them, and that they can't value preserving harmony or avoiding tough conversations above all else.
- You'll have a slacker working at the next desk over. Too-nice bosses often struggle to set standards, address problems, and enforce consequences--and if you’ve ever worked somewhere where laziness or shoddy work was tolerated, you know how frustrating and demoralizing this can be. Good people want to work with other good people, and they want to know that their boss is discerning when it comes to results. Employees' quality of life goes up in environments where standards are high, accountability is clear, and people can count on coworkers to pull their own weight.
- You'll receive fuzzy, unclear messages. Managers who are uncomfortable exercising authority directly often frame requirements as suggestions, resulting in staffers who are confused about expectations and managers who are frustrated that their "suggestions" aren’t taken seriously.
- You won't get useful feedback. Good bosses tell employees how they can grow and develop, which necessarily entails pointing out things they could be doing differently, something too-nice managers often find awkward.
Ironically, too-nice managers eventually end up with the very thing they're seeking to avoid: disgruntled, dissatisfied employees.
Obviously, the solution isn't to go to the other end of the spectrum and become a jerk. Good managers avoid both extremes. Instead, they act with the confidence of their position – confidently laying out expectations and holding people to them, operating in a fair, positive, and straightforward manner, and backing up their words with action. They have a matter-of-fact attitude toward authority, seeing it as just one more tool in their toolbox for getting things done.
They're also weirdly hard to find. If you have one, value him or her.
Alison Green is chief of staff for a medium-sized nonprofit where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. She is working with the Management Center to coauthor a book on nonprofit management. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.