Why Being Nice Makes You a Better Leader

Being nice doesn't mean you're weak. Find out more about treating your employees well and winning at the "lady boss" game.

learn more about Jessica Abo

By Jessica Abo

Hero Images | Getty Images

The following excerpt is from Jessica Abo's book Unfiltered: How to Be as Happy as You Look on Social Media. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | IndieBound

For far too long, being nice has been mistaken for being weak, and Fran Hauser, a startup investor and longtime media executive, is on a mission to change that.

There are plenty of women who believe being a bitch helped them succeed, but Fran says you don't have to be a bitch (or a jerk) to be the boss. That's why she wrote The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018): to challenge the notion that you cannot be both kind and successful.

"In reality, niceness is an essential quality of leadership for the world we're living in. It's a superpower that can unlock all sorts of potential and possibility we're currently missing," Fran says. "There's actually something very wrong when kindness isn't part of the picture when it comes to our leaders. When kindness isn't modeled and celebrated, we find ourselves in a workplace environment that is, at worst, toxic, and at its best, fails to allow us to reach our full potential and share the best of ourselves with others. And people are clamoring for a better, more human, nicer style of leadership."

If you're a boss, Fran suggests taking the lead on creating an environment rooted in respect, trust, and kindness. Below are Fran's five ways you can be nicer and stronger -- and get better results -- in your role as a leader.

1. Speak up.

By hiding behind a facade of agreeableness, Fran says you're hijacking your own effectiveness and not leaving a great impression of your strength and value. "It's OK to push back if you do it respectfully. The key to disagreeing respectfully is staying positive -- don't just say it's a bad idea. Instead, suggest a better solution and your reasoning behind it. Also, demon­strate that you invested the time to understand the other per­son's point of view -- this is usually a good way to defuse the situation."

2. Give feedback.

When you build a strong relationship with your team and care deeply about them and their careers, it can be a struggle to give tough feedback. But Fran says avoiding delivering negative feedback can make you seem like a push­over and, frankly, a bad mentor or boss. "You're also doing a disservice to the employee who would benefit from construc­tive criticism ("constructive' being the key)," she adds. "Give feedback that's nice and direct by presenting the information in an empathetic and supportive way. Position it as helpful advice rather than harsh critique." Fran suggests starting on a positive note about the person's performance -- something that is true and meaningful, and that doesn't feel like a throwaway. For example: I'm really impressed with how thor­ough your analysis has been. Then move on to the "issue." Say: I want to be helpful and better understand what's driving the problem (e.g., missed deadlines). Fran says don't get personal: Focus on the facts. Give specific examples and paint a broader context. For example: Sloppy financial reports can give people a lack of con­fidence in your numbers. "Ask questions and make it a dialogue, not a one-sided lecture. When you leverage your kindness to give feedback empathetically, the conversations become more pleasant and effective for everyone involved."

3. Negotiate.

Fran says you should never be afraid to ask for what you deserve. "Use your relational skills to negotiate strategically in a way that's good for you and the company," she advises. "Focus on the company's goals and the true value you add to the organization instead of all the reasons you feel you want a higher salary. Data talks -- gather as much as possible to use as backup. This can be data about your accomplishments or salary data from peers at other companies. Sometimes the value you've added is not tied to a specific project but that you've created a culture for your team that has resulted in improved morale and retention."

4. Network.

"Career success is increasingly defined not just by how many hours you spend at your computer but also your ability to connect to others, to incorporate outside perspec­tives, and to navigate groups. These are essential skills in today's ultraconnected world because no one and nothing exists in a vacuum. This means connecting the dots between ideas, businesses, and people. As a kind woman, you have an advantage here as long as you get away from your desk because a lot of this connection requires the very people skills that you have spent a lifetime developing," Fran says. If you aren't investing in yourself and networking, she adds, you won't acquire the experiences and insights that will lead to connect­ing the dots.

5. Make decisions.

As a leader, you need to be able to make decisions that might upset others. "Yes, it's essential to think everything through from multiple perspectives and get buy-in and advice from colleagues, but at the end of the day, a leader has to be able to stand in her own shoes, make a clear decision, and then own the results of that decision," Fran says. "Once you make the decision, thank everyone you've consulted for his or her input. Acknowledge that your decision isn't going to make everyone happy, but express that you feel strongly that it's the right direction. It's better to make a decision swiftly to avoid being perceived as wishy-washy and so you can all move forward."

Jessica Abo

Entrepreneur Staff

Media Trainer, Keynote Speaker, and Author

JESSICA ABO is a media trainer, keynote speaker, and bestselling author who uses her 20+ years of TV news experience to help entrepreneurs, C-Suite executives, celebrities, and philanthropists share their stories with the world. An award-winning journalist, Jessica has presented all over the country including at TEDx, Facebook, Microsoft, Delta Airlines, WW, and the United Nations. She has appeared on The TODAY Show, ABC News, Access Hollywood, KTLA, CBS, and NY1 and in Forbes, Fast Company, and Women's Health.  Her debut book Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media sold out on its first day and empowers readers with tools they can use to take back their happiness IRL (in real life).

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

This 61-Year-Old Grandma Who Made $35,000 in the Medical Field Now Earns 7 Figures in Retirement
A 'Quiet Promotion' Will Cost You a Lot — Use This Expert's 4-Step Strategy to Avoid It
3 Red Flags on Your LinkedIn Profile That Scare Clients Away
'Everyone Is Freaking Out.' What's Going On With Silicon Valley Bank? Federal Government Takes Control.

How to Detect a Liar in Seconds Using Nonverbal Communication

There are many ways to understand if someone is not honest with you. The following signs do not even require words and are all nonverbal queues.

Celebrity Entrepreneurs

'I Dreaded Falling in Love.' Rupert Murdoch Is Getting Hitched for the Fifth Time.

The 92-year-old media tycoon announces he will wed former San Francisco police chaplain Ann Lesley Smith.


Having Trouble Focusing? Here's How to Become Unstoppable in Your Performance

Here are a few tips on how to improve your focus, discipline and ability to complete projects.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas To Start Right Now

To start one of these home-based businesses, you don't need a lot of funding -- just energy, passion and the drive to succeed.

Starting a Business

Selling Your Business? Do These 6 Things Right Now.

If you want the maximum price you need to make these moves before you do anything else.


How Great Entrepreneurs Find Ways to Win During Economic Downturns

Recessions are an opportunity to recalibrate and make great strides in your business while others are unprepared to brave the challenges. Here's how great entrepreneurs can set themselves up for success despite economic uncertainty.