Can a CEO be too nice?

Being kind, compassionate and supportive are important traits for a CEO, as the job entails working with tens to potentially thousands of people. But sometimes, a leader's desire to be nice can get in the way of his or her responsibilities as the head of an organization, and can even lead to dysfunction, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Analysis of 2,600 leadership assessments of candidates for C-suite positions found that boards often overweigh amicability in their hiring decisions, according to the report. But being an effective leader is about more than playing nice with others. The same analysis found that although being amicable is positively correlated with being hired as a CEO, executives with a strong degree of decisiveness are 12 times more likely to deliver a strong performance. However, it should be noted these two characteristics are not mutually exclusive.

CEOs who are "too nice" threaten to lower an organization's performance in three main ways, according to the report.

1. They set too many priorities. CEOs who struggle to say "no" because they are trying to be nice often stretch their teams too thin across too many priorities. While members may initially be encouraged and excited about being included on so many important projects, over time, productivity and results will suffer.

2. They keep low-performers on for too long. CEOs who are "too nice" often allow subpar performers to remain in the organization. These weak links drag the company's performance down and create a culture of mediocrity.

3. They are conflict averse. The hallmark trait of overly nice CEOs is conflict aversion. Often times these leaders confuse collaboration with agreeableness, and avoid delivering tough feedback out of fear of hurting the morale of team members and damaging relationships with them.

With a leader who is "too nice," the solution is not to cut out empathy or kindness. Rather, the answer lies in clarifying priorities; establishing a culture of collaboration that is not consensus-driven; and embracing the sharing of conflicting ideas and honest feedback.


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