“You’re too nice to be an executive”

Over the past few months, I have been speaking and working with a number of women’s leadership networks and groups.

One of the questions that comes up at virtually every one is this:

“I keep getting told that I am too nice. Do you think I need to be less nice if I want to advance?”

I have also heard the same thing through my whole career in one way or another:
“Business is competitive and nasty. You need to be competitive and nasty too if you want to survive.”

We can all see examples of egomaniac, narcissistic assholes who have achieved great success.

And it can be confusing when you watch them get ahead.

I was afraid that I would need to be that way to succeed, and it made me stressed and sad. I couldn’t do it.

So I was afraid that my career would be limited if I were to remain “nice”.

Here’s why this is tricky…

If you follow the logic of, “Well, if I look at the results…that clearly works so that must be what is necessary”, you are missing an important point which is,

Although the asshole-route CAN work, it is not the ONLY way that works.

The “Nice” route

I was very lucky early in my career to have two mentors and role models (both men), who were both very successful and powerful business people, but who were also kind and authentic people who treated everyone with respect no matter what their position.

Their example gave me the confidence to pursue the authentic, kind, respectful route. And it worked for me.

Be Hard on Results, but Kind to People

When you hear, “you’re too nice”, there is a tendency to equate nice with weak. And to think that to be powerful, you can’t be nice.

But if you think instead, hard on results, kind to people, that leaves a lot of room for power in accountability, assertiveness, confidence, clear thinking, and direct communications.

There is no reason on earth that you can not be leader who is tough on results, but do it in a way that is kind to people.

Leadership does require strength, resilience, and some assertiveness… so think about that instead of thinking nice or not nice.

Next time you hear, “you are too nice”, instead of feeling pressure to change your personality to be more aggressive or unkind, ask yourself something more productive:

“Do I need to be more assertive, speak my mind, sell my ideas, or hold people accountable more?” … all of which you can do and still be nice.

Even stronger

Good leaders are strong people, probably even stronger than the assholes.

Just because you are not acting like a bully, doesn’t mean you are not strong. Remember the bullies are the ones who are not strong — that’s why they are bullies.

If you want to remain a good, kind person, you can still be a strong and effective business executive.

Confidence and Executive Presence

If you are struggling with this question of how to stay a nice person, but be more assertive, you might find my Playbook on Executive Presence to be really helpful.

If you would like some ideas about how to build your confidence and be more assertive in comfortable and authentic way, check out this Playbook on Executive Presence. And you can get it for FREE with a Trial Membership

This is one of many Executive Playbooks in my Executive Mentoring Group.

You can preview the Executive Presence Playbook and watch short videos of the key ideas included.

I created my Executive Mentoring Group so that I could share the most important insights and practical, concrete actions for advancing your career (without sacrificing your sanity or turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk).

It includes lots of pracitcal resources and also opportunities each month to get direct mentoring from me.

You can start your Free Trial here.

Patty Azzarello

Patty is available to speak at your company, annual meeting, or customer event. She can also deliver a custom workshop on Leadership or Strategy Execution for your leadership team. Contact Patty.

Or if you would like some personal help on your own professional development, check out her Executive Mentoring Group. It’s filled with insights, resources and support to build your executive confidence, advance your career, and includes direct mentoring from Patty.


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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

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