A Tyranny of Niceness
Some leaders and team cultures will go to great lengths to avoid candid feedback and honest conversations about performance. With time, team members learn that being nice is rewarded far more than being frank.
Politeness, positivity, and cheerleading soon become the norm in every conversation. “How am I doing?” almost always receives the same answer, “Great! You’re looking good, too.”
Cultures of niceness feel good and certainly appear supportive to those who experience them. The problem is, no one gets any better and poor performance is ignored or swept under the rug.
Because results don’t really matter, it should come as no surprise that “nice” cultures don’t excel at much, other than at politeness. Over time, this tyranny of niceness overwhelms the ability to speak honestly about performance at any level.
Anyone who desires to achieve exceptional results quickly falls into step, or leaves the organization. Asking others to be accountable in a niceness culture is deemed impolite. Mediocrity reigns supreme.
You might be surprised at how many niceness cultures exist. When a market leader has an extreme advantage over competitors and results take care of themselves, niceness becomes the norm.
Unfortunately, when conditions change over time and the advantage shrinks, the polite culture remains, making it nearly impossible to rediscover the honest conversations essential for results.
It doesn’t have to be this way, even in niceness cultures. Leaders can learn how to deliver candid feedback and hold others accountable while being positive, optimistic, and supportive at the same time.
While a tradition of politeness is hard to overcome, pushing through the tyranny of niceness is more a matter of leadership skill than it is about mindset. If you find yourself on a team too nice for its own good, remind everyone that they can be super polite and candid in the same exchange.
Remember: Politeness can be a poison if used to deflect honest conversations.