Are Your Employees Tough Enough For These Times?

They are great people.

You genuinely enjoy working with them and they are loved by your customers, suppliers, board members and others. Yet, their propensity for being nice to everyone has introduced complications as they are more concerned about pleasing others than they are about getting their jobs done as efficiently as possible.

Mr. Terry Stinson, former CEO of Bell Helicopter, says “People tend to mix up their priorities between service to the company versus service to the people.” This is not to imply that we want our employees to become jerks. Instead, they should stay true to nice and in doing so, take steps to ensure that they are performing in an optimal fashion.


In fact, now more so than ever, everyone within your organization must look for new ways to innovate and add value.

The popular phrase that resonates with people of this ilk is “Nice Guy Syndrome” as well as the unfortunate and at times, truthful phrase “Nice Guys Finish Last”. We all know these people as the extremist nice guys (and girls) who are the consummate people pleasers. They avoid confrontation at all costs and they will defer to others if contention arises. The problem with these guys is actually two-fold.

First, when left unchecked, these overly nice guys don’t achieve their full potential as they are focused disproportionately on people pleasing rather than production.

Your Job, Your Life | A CNBC Special Report
Your Job, Your Life | A CNBC Special Report

Second, while there are many people who are extreme overly nice guys, the majority of offenders go through “bouts” of Nice Guy Syndrome which are circumstantial.

As a result, they are not tapping into their full potential either.

This has negative implications for their careers and if you as a manager and leader cannot address this situation, your career is at risk as is the true potential of your business.


Don’t be mistaken with regard to the ubiquity of the nice guys. They are men and women, young and old, low level to high level. They are hardworking, resilient and genuinely concerned about their organizations. They are also struggling as they tend to over-commit and go over-board in their quest to please others.

The equivalent statement of “Just Do It” is to “Toughen Up” for the overly nice guys. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well as they need more prescriptive guidance. And herein lies the opportunity for you, as a leader and manager, to make a difference, especially in today’s economically challenging times. Overly nice guys tend to avoid confronting tough situations, defining boundaries and making choices.


For each one of these scenarios, there are specific symptoms and corresponding management strategies.

Here are a few points to consider:

Overly Nice Guys Avoiding Confrontation:

One Symptom: Denial – Overly nice guys have a tendency to assume that a situation will right itself, thus negating the need to confront the situation directly. This ultimately proves to be a form of denial.

One Recommended Management Strategy: Embed the concept of “Racing To The Conflict” into your organization. Don’t just reference this as a mission statement. Instead, make sure that there is adequate follow-up to ensure that people are embracing this strategy to nicely and efficiently resolve issues.

Brian Scudamore, Founder and CEO of 800-GOT-JUNKshared this strategy as one of his own and we incorporated it into our book as it had real substance. Scudamore believes this is a key strategy for holding people accountable as he states “Accountability starts with self- accountability. You have the guts to say, ‘Did I reach my outcome?’ If not, hold yourself accountable. This is about getting the job done—getting the best outcome—and accomplishing it in a very nice way.”


Overly Nice Guys Have No Boundaries:

One Symptom: The overly nice guys have a tendency to feel like they are victims under attack when people make requests of them. Consequently, they feel they must carry an unwarranted and substantial burden rather than defining reasonable boundaries of responsibility.

One Recommended Management Strategy: When our overly nice guys continually fall on their sword in an effort to help out; when they abandon their priorities at all costs, they risk the possibility of becoming Corporate Martyrs. These are the men and women who go well-beyond Corporate Heroism by giving of themselves to a fault. As a result, they may be sick more frequently, the consistency of their work may not be sufficient and they may be prone to professional or personal melt-downs. When overly nice guys push themselves beyond reasonable “hero” limits for the company, a guiding hand is needed to ensure that they don’t push too far. Managers can draft “Anti- Martyr” boundaries that are well defined and closely monitored. For instance, in a professional services firm, it may be appropriate to define a maximum number of hours that can be billed within a given period. For manufacturing organizations, a maximum number of patent submissions per year could be introduced.


Overly Nice Guys Cannot Make Choices:

One Symptom: Overly nice guys regularly defer to others when having to make choices. Rather than appear as argumentative, they prefer to get as many people involved as possible to ensure that everyone’s views are being taken into account. This slows down the process to a painful grind and the overly nice guys must learn how to make a decision, execute and then take some corrective actions if the decision was not optimal.

One Recommended Management Strategy: When your overly nice guys cannot choose from a variety of options, it may be appropriate to introduce a “Decision Framework”. In this capacity, the overly nice guy can be given certain parameters such as number of people necessary to make a decision, schedule for the decision and financial cost guidelines. These are just a few examples and you should construct a simple Framework to serve as guiding posts for your overly nice guys. Otherwise, the overly nice guys will not be able to make their ways through any of the key decisions. Jim Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young shared “The sign of effective leadership and effective organizations is to recognize that most of those thousands of decisions [being made] don’t have significant strategic impact.”

As a leader and manager, these strategies require that you have the courageous and honest discussions with your overly nice guys. If you don’t, you are perpetuating the problem. This was the common theme expressed by all of the CEOs and thought leaders we interviewed for the book; Courageous and Honest Discussions Up Front.

Based upon our surveys, nearly two thirds of corporate workers consider themselves too nice so don’t give up on them. They represent a vital and important dimension of every business and with your help, can make a big difference for your organization.

For more executive strategies:

Russ Edelman is President & CEO of Corridor Consulting and founder of Nice Guy Strategies, LLC (NGS) and the author of “Nice Guys Can Get The Corner Office: Eight Strategies for Winning in Business Without Being a Jerk.”
Comments? Send them to