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The Nice Boss Curse: How to Gain Respect as a Leader

Good leadership lies between being a doormat and a dictator.

Key points

  • Being the boss doesn’t mean doing everything.
  • Effective leaders avoid hollow therapy speak.
  • A leader isn't liked by everyone, but they can inspire action.
Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash
Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

One type of leader who may find it difficult in commanding a team effectively is the nice boss.

While they are dependable and have no issues taking responsibility, nice bosses struggle with the uglier aspects of leadership like maintaining leadership over a group of people, reprimanding or disqualifying members when the situation demands it, and facing the hate that bosses often receive.

Here are two tips for anyone looking to make their soft leadership a bit stronger, without turning into a stone-hearted dictator.

1. Being the boss doesn’t mean doing everything

Being responsible for the performance of an entire team is not easy, especially when your personality does not allow you to hound or nag people incessantly to produce results. A nice boss might find it easier to take some work off of an overworked or inefficient member of their team and put it on their own plate.

However, a leader’s true potential is reflected in their ability to delegate work among their team members. According to Jesse Sostrin, Ph.D., author of The Manager's Dilemma, you can better allocate your time, resources, and energy as a boss by being selective. Whenever a demand for your involvement comes your way, you can give one of three responses:

  1. Yes. This response is only warranted in cases where your time and talent as a leader are necessary. These might include executive decisions for the team or feedback.
  2. Yes, if. This is the appropriate response for a task that requires the direct involvement of another individual to accomplish a goal. You should make it clear that you will solely operate in an advisory or catalyst capacity in such scenarios.
  3. No. This is the response meant for situations where you know that your involvement will make a greater impact elsewhere.

Most new leaders have to contend with the common leadership paradox of being more essential and less involved, according to Sostrin.

2. Avoid hollow therapy speak

Delivering disappointing news comes with the territory of being a leader. Be it announcing salary cuts or the cancellation of an annual retreat due to budgetary reasons, the leader is usually the one to bite the bullet.

A nice boss may be inclined to sugarcoat their words to soften the blow and avoid their team’s disapproval: "We’re all in this together.” “We understand that this may be challenging.”

However, a survey of around 2000 American employees by The Harris Poll revealed that therapy speak — that is, empathetic sounding language that lacks appropriate follow-through — makes employees more resentful towards the leadership team and less excited about their jobs.

The survey also found that most people prefer honest and genuine communication over therapy speak at work. When you need to deliver bad news, do not overthink it or try to comfort your team before they ask for it. Breaking bad news gently and in matter-of-fact words is a skill that will benefit you even outside the workplace.


Being a good leader entails doing what’s best for the team, sometimes regardless of how they might feel about it. The idea is not to be liked by everyone, but to shape the way the team functions and inspire action.

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