Can you be a leader and a nice guy?
As I had originally mused in my original article published in 2012, when my mentor had told me years ago that, “You have to choose, Stan. You can either be a nice guy, or you can be a leader,” I had thought that there must be a compromise to be found here.
As a self-proclaimed nice guy who looks to cultivate relationships with people emphatically, as well as an interim Director of Ethical Leadership at Claremont Lincoln University and a private business owner, I’ve concluded, “Absolutely.”
Here are four ways that a leader can lead effectively and still be a nice guy.
Stick to your Core.
Whatever principles, values, or whatever you regard as the core of every action you take as a leader, stick to it.
For myself, some values that I regard as being quintessential are being, truly, a nice guy, exemplifying the Golden Rule, and appreciating servant leadership.
As mentioned in my original article, servant leadership is vastly different than martyr leadership:
If the relationship between you and your organization means you constantly give and your organization never gives anything in return, you are on a one-way trip to burnout (or worse).
Servant leadership begins with the desire to serve. The takeaway here: although there are often perks that go along with leadership, the desire for those perks is not the primary motivator for servant leadership.
Next, servant leaders both serve and are served by society. Therefore, servant leadership should not be confused with martyr leadership. Yes, servant leaders give of their resources, but that giving is not a one way relationship. If you constantly make sacrifices for your organization and receive nothing in return, you are on a one-way trip to burn-out, or something worse.
Understand your purpose.
Leading an organization must require understanding the organization’s purpose, as well as your own purpose. In order to coincide the Nice Guy and the Leader archetypes, the organization’s purpose and your own must work hand-in-hand. The reason for the two to work so closely together is because there are bound to be obstacles in which these two sides will contrast against each other.
For example, in my coaching business, I desire to see my clients succeed, and I am sympathetic when they are delayed by obstacles. But when an agreed-upon development goal is delayed multiple times, I have to ask a hard question: “Do you still want to be coached?” (That means I also have to prepare for an answer I may not like.)
Settle conflicting values.
When disagreements arise and gray areas occur, understanding your purpose and sticking to your Core will allow you to help settle the conflict.
Think of these occasional conflicts, in which your inner Nice Guy and your outward Leader combat, in the form of a lever, as I detailed in Crosswalk. The more you care about a certain value or trait, the lengthier the lever, which, in turn, causes less resistance when it’s time to pull the lever and spring you into action.
Conflict and confrontation are inevitable when navigating the waters of being a genuine nice guy and also being a leader. When these situations arise, honest, actionable, and transparent feedback is crucial when tackling a situation.
Speak in first person and make sure it’s known that this is how you personally feel and address what you personally would want to occur. Speak clearly and actionably so that, when conflict inevitably rises, there is helpful, open feedback.
Open and helpful feedback isn’t just limited to conflict resolution. When successes come, honest and open feedback must occur then, too. Though publicizing a team’s success may grate at your inner nice guy (because nice guys notoriously hate bragging), reframe the perspective and push down the knee-jerk nice-guy humility. Publicizing a team’s success is not bragging; it’s providing helpful feedback that absolutely deserves to be known and celebrated by the organization.
For those of you struggling to make your nice guy trait coincide with your leadership, hopefully, these four methods help settle that inner conflict to create productive leadership while still getting to be a nice guy.