Can you be ‘nice’ and be a leader? Director of Operations, Shahida Aslam

In the ever-evolving landscape of leadership, it is essential to recognise that our backgrounds and personal journeys significantly influence our perspectives and biases. As we reflect on the changing face of leadership, one striking transformation is the emergence of “niceness” as a valuable trait in leaders.

Gone are the days when leadership was synonymous with authority and dominance. In my early post-university years, I encountered managers who wielded power with an authoritarian style. They made it clear that they were in control. Today, leadership demands more than management; it expects leaders to be empathetic, compassionate, and, yes, nice while still making critical decisions.

For the longest time, I believed that being “nice” and being a leader were incompatible. Traditional views of leadership often depicted leaders as assertive, competitive, and ruthless. However, through my own experiences, I’ve discovered that being nice and being a leader can coexist, even complement each other in many ways.

So, can you be “nice” and still be a leader? My answer is yes. Niceness doesn’t equate to weakness. In fact, leaders who embrace empathy and respect can make tough decisions without resorting to authoritarian or cruel tactics.

I would like to look at  three essential qualities that define “niceness” in the context of leadership:

1. Gratitude: Expressing appreciation is crucial for leaders to acknowledge the efforts of their team members, colleagues, and supporters. Kindness can foster goodwill and strengthen relationships, which is especially valuable in sectors where goodwill plays a significant role. A simple thank you can go a long way when expressed genuinely.

2. Being Intentional: Being a nice leader involves empathy and active listening to understand the needs and concerns of team members. By addressing these needs sincerely, leaders can foster loyalty and a sense of belonging.

3. Conscious Leadership: Conscious leaders are aware of their actions and their impact on their teams, organizations, and society. They aim to make a positive difference in the world, aligning their actions with their values and the betterment of others.

Nice leaders tend to create inclusive and diverse cultures, excel at communication, exhibit humility by acknowledging mistakes, and support the growth of their team members. This, in turn, leads to higher retention rates and fosters a positive work environment.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that being nice in leadership is not without its challenges. Decision-making can become complex, and time-consuming, especially in fast-paced environments. During crises, it might hinder quick decision-making and adaptability to certain cultures and industries may be required. Not everyone will resonate with this leadership style.

In conclusion, our challenge as leaders is to be human, intentional, and balanced. Niceness in leadership is not about seeking approval but about consistently acting with honesty, ethics, and transparency, building trust among our team members. It prioritizes ethical behaviour for the long-term success of the organization while considering the well-being of its members.

The conundrum of being nice can be understood by diving into the psychology behind extreme niceness. It often stems from feelings of inadequacy and the need for approval. True kindness, on the other hand, involves generosity and consideration without expecting anything in return. It’s a quality of being that we can all cultivate.

In a world that could always use more kindness, let’s continue to embrace and practice niceness as leaders. It’s simple, free, and health-enhancing for both individuals and organisations.