Last issue, the co-CEO of a Halifax-based technology company wrote to ask PROFIT-Xtra readers:
“My business partner thinks that, as a boss, I suffer from nice-guy-itis. It’s probably true, but I say it’s not such a bad quality. Plus, we sort of have a good cop/bad cop routine that seems to work. Is being a nice boss necessarily a bad thing?”
Best reader responses
Allan Shaw, NEXX Step Solutions:
Contrary to popular belief, nice guys don’t necessarily finish last, nor do nice bosses. If being a nice boss means that you’re approachable, a good listener, respectful of those you manage, open to the views and opinions of your employees, and yet still able to make the difficult decisions when required to do so, then there’s nothing wrong with being a nice guy. However, if your nice-guy image inhibits your ability to perform your duties, then a more distant and arm’s-length approach might be required.
A good cop/bad cop approach to business is an interesting one, and a worrisome one at that, for it has the potential of establishing a rift between the partners. Your employees will very quickly recognize the two sides to this equation—the approachable good cop and the less approachable bad cop—and leverage these differences by playing one person off against the other. Managed well, a good cop/bad cop style can provide a stronger management team than either style could alone.
At the end of the day, it’s not about being a nice guy. It’s about being fair in all your business dealings and how you treat others!
Jeremy Lichtman, Lichtman Consulting Inc.:
I personally believe—and the example from companies like Nordstrom backs this up—that the job of a manager is to act as a caretaker on behalf of his or her staff. The boss’s responsibility is to deal with problems that get in their way, not to push people around. I wouldn’t want to work with, or for, somebody who feels otherwise.
If a nice guy is who you are, you can no more change your psyche than your fingerprints.
However, nice guys do not have to be pushovers to be taken advantage of by poor employees, as might be the feared reaction to a “soft” boss. As long as staff respond to your niceness with openness and honesty, being a likeable boss is beneficial in that communication will not be tempered with a sense of fear. Long gone are the days of tyranny. However, if you feel your niceness is being taken advantage of by staff, then someone else should handle HR and leave you to work with staff in a capacity that suits you. There’s nothing wrong with being a nice guy as long as it boosts the productivity of a respectful staff.
When I was the managing editor of a small newsroom, I had a reporter come on board who, because of experiences with previous employers, was afraid to ask for time away in her first week on the job. Instead, she simply snuck off under the pretext of chasing a news story.
In the weeks that followed, she got to know me as less than a tyrant and confided in me that her child had a medical appointment and instead of asking for the time off, she had simply snuck off. In confiding in me, she revealed that her schedule was difficult to accommodate, as her son attended school and she needed daycare for him for an hour before school. We worked out a schedule whereby she started later, making up for the missed time writing at home in the evenings. She turned out to be a productive addition to our news team, but I fear that had I not been the proverbial nice guy, she would have continued to deceive me, resulting in the conclusion of her employment.
I should note, too, that another reporter took advantage of my “soft” character. For a month, he failed to provide coverage for a variety of false excuses, until he got caught up in his lies. Still, I’d rather be liked and trusted than feared and deceived—it lets me sleep at night.
For his answer, Erkki Pohjolainen will receive a copy of Entrepreneurial Finance: Finance and Business Strategies for the Serious Entrepreneur by Steven Rogers.
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Watch for another Peer-to-Peer question in the next PROFIT-Xtra.