What's your gut reaction when an employee makes a poor suggestion during a meeting? Do you nod and try to appease him or her with a noncommittal, "Yeah, that's a good idea. We should look into that"? Or do you respond honestly by saying, "That's not the direction we want to go, but thanks for your input"?

Being too nice as a leader will actually hurt you, waste time and resources, and possibly damage your reputation with loyal customers and hardworking employees, says Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation.com, a company that manages individuals' and businesses' online reputations.

"Leaders are placed under a tremendous amount of pressure to be relatable, human [and] nice. Many yield to this instinct, because it feels much easier to be liked. Few people want to be the bad guy," Fertik writes in the Harvard Business Review. "But leaders are also expected to make the tough decisions that serve the company or the team's best interests. Being too nice can be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization."

The dichotomy between wanting to be a kind CEO and one who makes the right decisions can trip up many leaders. But there is a way to balance these two, without coming across as cold or robotic. "Nice is only good when it's coupled with a rational perspective and the ability to make difficult choices," Fertik says.

Check out the common scenarios below and apply Fertik's suggestions the next time you find yourself with the urge to dodge a decision and instead just "be nice."

Don't keep a bad hire.

If you make a bad hire, don't try to hold on to him. If the new employee is truly a mistake, no amount of coaching will help him grow into the role. Fertik says you need to be decisive and fire him right away. "Resist the temptation to prolong confrontation, to see if things will get better. It is more of a disservice to let someone flounder, especially when it's clear that he or she just isn't hitting the mark," Fertik writes. "Be kind and communicate clearly, but don't be nice. Be surgical about it. Make the clean cut. Help the person transition somewhere he or she can succeed. Handling employee issues immediately helps your culture and productivity--over time, you'll attract employees with similar values and convictions."

Don't give small allowances.

Being too nice across the board will hurt you as a leader and hurt your company as a whole. "When you're too nice--to suppliers who can't deliver on time, to colleagues who don't do their work, to customers who refuse to pay--you're actually letting others take advantage of you and your business," Fertik says. If you give small allowances here and there and let people slide for infractions, you're planting the seeds for "contempt to spread." Just "imagine the reactions of your most talented, focused, and motivated employees as they watch lackluster coworkers get pass after pass. Anger and resentment take root, morale plummets, and turnover starts to go up, up, up," Fertik writes. "You don't need to be severe to be respected, but you do need to hold your organization to certain standards--and you must be firm about people meeting them. Setting rules will help you when decisive action is needed. No more delays, no demurring, no debating."

Take time for introspection.

If you have a habit of being too nice to employees, chances are you let yourself slide as well. "Introspection is a powerful leadership tool, but we often forget to use it. When you ask yourself what behaviors hold you and your team back, you can recalibrate your leadership style for the better," Fertik writes in HBR. "When you give employees the space to give you the hard truths, without fear of repercussion, you'll get valuable perspective and make a giant leap forward in maturing as a leader." 

Published on: Apr 7, 2014