Over a decade ago, business performance consultant Ryan Estis transitioned from being a salesperson out in the field to being a manager. He moved from an environment where it was his job to make customers happy to one where it was critical for him to hold his team accountable for results.
“Going from top producer to manager was literally the toughest career transition I’ve ever had to make. They’re two entirely different jobs,” he says. In professional selling, you’re even trained in ways to make people like you, such as mirroring body language.
He says that he initially failed to hold people accountable for goals out of a desire to be popular. He dodged some tough conversations. And overall, that avoidance created inconsistencies that affected performance. His team didn’t always know what to expect from him. After a number of such missteps, Estis says he overcame his people-pleasing ways by systematizing his approach, which let him take some of the emotion out of managing.
By mapping out clear goals and responsibility and accountability mechanisms, managing became more about performance. He could look at the goals and responsibilities and ensure that people were doing their jobs. When they weren’t, he could address specific actions that could be taken to improve the situation, whether an employee needed additional training or resources, or whether there were other obstacles in the way.
Everyone wants to be liked, but there’s a line between being the strong manager that everyone loves and being a people pleaser. Good managers cross it at their peril, says workplace consultant Ilene Marcus, founder of Aligned Workplace.
People pleasing includes a variety of behaviors, such as saying “yes” when you don’t mean it, using empty platitudes to ingratiate yourself to others, and avoiding difficult conversations and conflict, Marcus says. Instead, people pleasers take the path of least resistance.
Regardless of the reason, trying to please all of the people all of the time is a recipe for career disaster. Here are ways that being a people pleaser is undermining your effectiveness as a manager and how you can turn around such behavior.
Don’t think that being “nice” is making your employees feel good about you, says leadership expert Shawn Hunter, author of Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact. It could actually be doing the opposite.
“It’s a trap to be constantly filling people with platitudes,” he says. Expecting excellence from others is the real compliment, because it shows you believe in them. But if you’re constantly saying that people are doing a “great job” when they’re not, your encouragement will ring hollow at the times it’s really necessary, and they won’t believe you have the strength to go to bat for them when it’s needed. Being a “yes person” to upper management can be even worse, as they may not believe you have the fortitude to advance in the company, he says.
Let’s face it: No one likes to feel like a doormat. If you’re constantly avoiding asking for what you need or saying “yes” to projects or requests simply because you’re avoiding conflict, it’s probably taking its toll on you, Marcus says.
She recommends doing a gut check after you accept certain tasks and responsibilities. How did you feel after you did so? Did you start the conversation with the intention of refusing, but accepted anyway? Do you regret that you accepted the task or role? Then it’s time to start saying “no” more, she says.
“If you people please by always saying ‘yes,’ then start saying ‘no,’” she says. “You have to practice it. It doesn’t come easy.” However, it will help you start getting back in touch with how you should be spending your time or devoting your resources.
While people pleasers look for validation by being liked, a good manager’s validation is results, Marcus says. Some people think that if their staff likes them, they’ll stick around longer and everyone will do a better job. But the reality is that your staff likes you best when you’re providing the resources, tools, direction, and other things they need to get ahead, she says. If they see you as a “yes person,” they’re going to stop coming to you for help.
Instead, focus on results. Work on getting your validation from challenges overcome and goals achieved. When you prioritize the factors that matter to the team’s success, you’ll gain more trust from your team because they know you’re creating an environment to make them all more successful.
As a manager, you set the tone for your team. If it’s clear that you don’t like conflict, your team is likely to avoid it as well, Hunter says. That gets in the way of provoking people to exhibit more authenticity, share feelings, and express genuine opinions and ideas for fear of rocking the boat. Together, such hesitation creates a culture of homogeneity that stifles innovation and makes it hard for people to be themselves.
“You’re not encouraging people to be more genuine and authentic at work, and exhibit deeper and more powerful and creative attributes of their selves that could accelerate the business,” he says.