How nice leaders create team drama

Just because a person in a position of leadership is liked does not mean he or she is a competent leader. Although the boss-employee relationship is of paramount importance, when relationships become misaligned with organizational goals, team problems shortly follow. A pattern that’s easy to miss: A faltering team that belongs to a likeable leader.    

Overly “nice” leaders often create unintended and unnecessary team drama because their overriding priority is to be liked and to avoid conflict.  Here are three styles that nice leaders often use to unintentionally create team drama.   

Best friend

New leaders often have not developed the leadership identity they need to set boundaries, initiate difficult conversations and separate their feelings from the facts of their job. They often thrive at first during the honey-moon period when everyone gets along, but falter when reality sets in. Reality begins when Kim complains about Chris. The best friend leader is more invested in making sure no one gets their feelings hurt than giving honest feedback and guidance. Instead of coaching Kim and Chris to work out their differences, the best friend listens, offers explanations and short term tactics  to create harmony. If push comes to shove, the best friend leader takes sides to protect his own turf, thus creating trust violations.

Here is a list of some best-friend behaviors to look out for:

  • Gossiping with employees about other employees
  • Avoiding difficult conversations
  • Being inauthentic about the real problems
  • Blaming upper management for decisions
  • Listening to hear-say

The best friend leader cares more about being liked and making employees feel good than he does about aligning with the mission of the organization.

The hero

The hero is the boss who loves to help. The hero does well at first with a new team that lacks skills or confidence. The problem is that heros never seem to shove the baby birds out of the nest. These leaders create unhealthy codependence and do not understand the difference between helping and rescuing. Helping is teaching a man to fish, while rescuing is giving the man a fish -- over and over. 

The hero leader has certain qualities that can be identified:

  • Inability to ask for what she wants
  • Taking credit instead of giving credit
  • An addictive urge to fix everyone else’s problems
  • The open door has become a revolving door
  • Overly dependent employees

When a leader tells you she has had to compensate for a brilliant yet somewhat incompetent employee, don’t look at the employee as incompetent, but instead to look at the leader as one who needs to be the hero. The reason the incompetence exists is because it has been allowed in the first place. There is always a secondary gain the hero gets from other people’s incompetency.

The hands-off leader

It sounds great at first to hear that the leader is “hands-off.”  You’ll hear statements like, “I trust everyone to do their job,” “I provide a lot of autonomy,” "I’m a “hands-off delegator,” or “I’m always here if people need me, otherwise I just stay out of their way.” This method works until it doesn’t. If the team is having trouble don’t look first at team dynamics, look to see if there’s a hands-off leader who is avoiding. Look for signs of a hands-off philosophy when you find complaints that have not been addressed, or if team squabbles and turf wars are hampering productivity.

Some signs of hands-off leadership include:

  • Brushing complaints under the carpet
  • Changing the structure before talking to the individuals
  • Failure to assist lower-level leaders when problems occur
  • Not seeing the drama until it has gotten out of control
  • Inability to see the role leaders play in the team's drama

Sometimes a hands-off leader helps create autonomy and more responsibility and sometimes “Hands off” translates to disengaged leader. Use wisdom to discern that distinction.

Conclusion

The paradox of likability is this: The very qualities that makes a leader likeable can also become the obstacle to growth and the root cause of costly mistakes. When you notice team drama, the natural response is to look at personalities, but when you dig deeper you find a hidden root: A leader that is simply too nice. While likeability can be an advantage, the disadvantage of unbalanced likeability is unintended team-drama and lowered productivity.

 

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of "Stop Workplace Drama" (Wiley 2011), "No-Drama Leadership" (Bibliomotion 2015) and "7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice" (Greenbranch 2018).  Download "The Bottom Line: How Executive Conversations Drive Results." Connect with Chism via LinkedInFacebook and Twitter and at MarleneChism.com

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