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Crucial Conversations QA

Crucial Applications: Overcoming the “Nasty versus Nice” Debate

Lately it seems the evolution of corporate leadership has come full circle: feared tyrants to spineless pushovers and back again to oppressive leaders. This cyclical trend sparks a timeless debate: which management style is better for business? The “nasty boss” or the “nice boss”?

For more than two decades, we have spent more than 10,000 hours observing and studying more than 25,000 influential organizational leaders. To identify these leaders, we compared top performers to above-average employees and evaluated the differences. What we discovered is effective leaders are both 100 percent honest and direct in describing tough issues and 100 percent respectful in the way they communicate. Additionally, effective leaders demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • They transform potential conflict into improved results.
  • They confront poor performers and incompetence in a timely manner without tolerating or ignoring the real issue.
  • They remain candidly honest when issues arise and avoid tolerating lax accountability or instilling fear in employees.
  • They frequently interact with direct reports as a team player, not an individual contributor.
  • They provide coaching that is specific, clear, and actionable without capitalizing on shortcomings.

Our experience and research findings suggest the timeless dispute is a moot point. “Nice” and “nasty” management styles are not predictors of success or failure. What is best for business is an approach that respectfully confronts the gap between business objectives and the level of performance and, with employees, jointly solves problems and violated expectations. Civilly confronting workplace issues as they occur with honesty, directness, and respect builds a culture of safety and productivity where employees are held accountable and feel empowered to meet and exceed expectations.

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