Are You Too Nice to Lead Your Small Business?

Many budding entrepreneurs start their own companies because they like interacting with people and providing products or services that others need. But the friendly relationships that grow out of this impulse can have a negative impact on a business if they extend to its employees.

As the boss, there’s not always a lot of space between showing empathy for the people who work for you and being seen as a pushover. Becoming “friends” with your staff members in the belief that they’ll work harder as a result sounds good, but it comes with a variety of pitfalls.

Identifying the Problem

How many of the following traits describe your particular style of leadership?

  • You often don’t hold people accountable for substandard work.
  • You often choose to avoid conflict, hoping that people will sort issues out on their own.
  • You tend to take on work that others fail to do, in addition to all of your regular responsibilities.
  • When the time comes to make big changes in the business, you frequently capitulate to employees’ objections — and don’t make the necessary adjustments.
  • You really like to be liked.

If you identify with any of these traits, you should notice how your leadership style may be affecting behavior in the workplace: Employees miss deadlines and fail to let you know. Your input is either ignored or employees argue against your decisions. You feel obliged to explain yourself and your rationale in order to “justify” a task they’re given to complete. Workers feel free to drop by your office at any time and share inappropriate details about their personal lives.

You don’t need an MBA to recognize that these are warning signs, all of which represent the unfortunate results of being “too nice” as a boss and as a business owner.

Finding a Solution

How do you fix the situation? Become “professionally friendly.” Create healthy relationships with your employees without compromising your business goals and your vision for the future.

Try adopting a few basic principles:

  • Treat everyone fairly. Make sure every employee is held to the same standards. Avoid favoritism (or even the perception of favoritism), so that no one feels as if underperformers are being unjustly protected.
  • Avoid gossip. As tempting as it may be to chitchat about juicy incidents in employees’ lives, stay away. This not only undermines people’s respect for you, but also inevitably leads to resentment among those who feel “out of the loop.”
  • Deal with conflicts head-on. Not everyone is up to the unpleasant task of handling conflicts between employees, but it comes with the job of running a business. Consider hiring a professional coach to assist you in developing effective conflict-resolution skills. A strong leader knows how to step in and resolve issues and offer guidance for coping with troublesome matters in the future.
  • Fulfill your “like to be liked” needs outside the workplace. Building a network of trusted friends and acquaintances in your personal life will address your urge to be “one of the guys” with your employees.

When you run your own business, you create the culture you want, for yourself and the people you hire. It’s not the place to go looking for a new BFF.

About Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor and a former Senior Writer for Vistage International, a global membership organization of chief executive officers. He writes frequently on issues and challenges faced by U.S. small businesses.
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