Business Management

Kathryn Cave (Global) - "Awful" Leadership: A Crusade Against "Nice"?

Following last week's article on Steve Jobs' leadership style, 15% of respondents in our straw poll felt that being an "awful boss" was crucial to organisational leadership, whilst 26% felt it might be. Kathryn Cave, Editor at IDG Connect, looks at this in a little more detail and attempts to determine what it really means for the workplace.

"Nice" is such a damning word. It carries the unspoken caveat "but dull", and bears the unmistakable whiff of ineffectuality. Type "nice boss" into Google and the first two hits, "5 reasons why working for a really good boss sucks" and "Are you too nice a boss?", focus exclusively on the negative value of this individual. But does this just give people an excuse to be nasty?

As the reaction to our article last week on Steve Jobs' management style demonstrated, what constitutes "good" leadership is often difficult to pin-point, and many people believe it is necessary to be "awful". The straw poll we ran to 115 respondents showed that whilst 57% of people do not think being an "awful boss" is crucial to organisational leadership; 15% think it is and 26% think it might be. This is pretty revealing when you consider the implications. But what does it actually prove about how managers should lead their staff?

One interesting study released earlier this year by Stanford University showed that more guilt-prone individuals tend to make the best business leaders. Who would have guessed it? This is because these people tend to carry a stronger sense of social responsibility than others. The study makes a clear psychological distinction between guilt and shame. Sufferers from the former tend to feel bad about things and try to rectify the problem; whilst those afflicted by the latter simply feel bad. Surprisingly the findings suggested those predisposed to guilt make for better managers than extroverts.

I'm not sure that feeling guilty necessarily has anything to do with being nice - although some people might make the connection. But it is horrible people that really get us talking - I mean who would make a film called "nice bosses"? Last year a survey conducted by OfficeTeam showed 46% of respondents had worked for an ‘unreasonable manager' at one time or another and most people just learnt to put up with it. The research went on identify the five difficult types of manager: the micro manager, the poor communicator, the bully, the saboteur and the ‘moody' mixed bag. Most people can probably relate to this on some level.

Whatever way it manifests itself though, poor management can be a serious problem. Not only does it potentially damage workers' self-esteem and job prospects, it can also cost organisations money. Christine Porath, assistant professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and co-author of The Costs of Bad Behaviour: How Incivility Damages Your Business and What You Can do About It, carried out research on the financial implications of bad management; it showed a Cisco Systems audit proved an annual loss of $12-million.

So what is the answer? Does "nice" mean ineffectual and useless? Does cold hard cruelty make for a miserable but better workforce? Maybe a recent article in Forbes by Jonathan Feldman put it best when he wrote "you can't be a great boss without being "nice" in some way. But you will absolutely fail--and fail your employees--if accountability isn't front and centre"? I suppose this is a polite way of saying that however kind and understanding you want to be - you still have to get the job done!

By Kathryn Cave, Editor, IDG Connect



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