Leadership fail: A “make everyone happy” attitude

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Whether we are conscious of it or not, we often want to make everyone happy. As leaders, we don’t take pride in firing people, writing people up, ignoring people’s ideas or leaving people out of important decisions but the truth is that we may very well have to do these things sometimes.

One of the greatest leadership fails I’ve seen is avoiding difficult decisions, crucial conversations and other unpopular but necessary actions. I’ve seen leaders let their employees get away with some of the worst behaviors because they think that talking to the employees about their behaviors will make things worse and the employees won’t like them anymore. First of all, this is a poor excuse for not addressing people problems. Secondly, the reality is often different from the leaders’ perceptions.

A leader with a “Make Everyone Happy” attitude can be extremely detrimental to a team. We’ve all seen them. They’re the ones who ask everyone in the organization for their opinion before making a decision and values every person’s opinion the same. They’re the ones who give poor performers a good review because they don’t want to have “that” conversation. They’re the ones who try to reward everyone, even people who aren’t doing their job well…or at all.

In hindsight, these leaders are actually hurting themselves and their teams. A “Make Everyone Happy” attitude can:

  • Slow productivity. When we try to make everyone happy by including them in every decision, we never get a decision made or we end up making a decision without everyone because we need to meet a deadline – and then, they get even more upset with us because we asked for their opinion and didn’t wait for them to give it. Sometimes, involving too many people in a decision, assignment or project can hinder productivity. Leaders must know when to include everyone and when not too.
  • Devalue high performers. If we treat our poor performers the same as our high performers, our high performers will start to notice. I see leaders do this a lot when it comes to performance reviews. Whether we like it or not, employees talk. Our high performers will find out if you rate a poor performer similar to them and they will become less motivated to do a good job. Why should they go above and beyond if we don’t recognize them for it? This is like giving a trophy to the winning team and the losing team – what’s the point of making it a game then? Leaders must hold employees accountable and coach poor performers to get better or coach them out the door so high performers do not feel devalued.
  • Ruin a leader’s reputation. Employees will stop trusting us if we are always trying to make everyone happy. They will notice and will begin to think we are weak. They’ll think we’re afraid of dealing with difficult situations. If we try to include everyone in everything, they’ll start to think we don’t know what we’re doing. Leaders must focus on doing what’s best for the team and organization as a whole, which may not always be the most popular thing that makes everyone happy.

Trying to make everyone happy can often backfire on leaders and do the opposite – piss everyone off. Great leaders aren’t afraid to stand alone, which is why they rarely have to.

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7 thoughts on “Leadership fail: A “make everyone happy” attitude

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