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John Daly: Can Extremely Nice People Be Successful Leaders?

By John Daly for The Key Class |

In a recent article, fellow etiquette coach Barbara Pachter says that nice guys can finish last if they are too polite. From my perspective, my success has been because of my knowledge of etiquette combined with my area of expertise. As a business owner, it is important for employees to enjoy working for you, but there is a fine line between being too nice and not being nice enough!

Pachter says leaders need to be polite and powerful. The danger in being too polite is that employees will eventually stop taking you seriously.

So, what makes the difference between being too polite and being rude? How can you temper it all? Pachter, in her book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette, provides four simple guidelines to double-check on whether you are being too polite.

» Smiling too much. Constantly having a smile on your face in a business setting makes you appear weaker, less dominant and thus less serious. These may make you easy to work with but won’t gain respect. Definitely smile when appropriate, but keep it in check.

» Using passive language. Don’t say “I was just wondering” or “Could you perhaps ...” These type phrases make you appear as if you have low self-esteem. Pachter advises that when you begin sentences with “I think” that you are telling others you are unsure about the answer. When giving your opinion, use “I recommend” or “I suggest” which is much stronger.

Review your voice mail messages before sending them to someone. Make sure you convey a message of strength. Don’t lead with small talk or use language that makes you appear less in authority.

» Apologizing too much. If you say “I’m sorry” too much, it detracts from your professional image. If you cause a problem, say “I’m sorry” once. Don’t keep saying it. That makes you appear unsure of yourself. I prefer to say “I apologize” instead of “I’m sorry.”

» Not confronting people. If you’re in a leadership position and something is wrong, you need to confront it immediately says Pachter. Some people feel that if they confront others then people won’t like them. However, as a leader, it is critical that business issues be addressed in an immediate and straight-forward fashion. People will respect you when you take charge and solve problems. As a leader, never avoid speaking directly to the people involved in a business mistake. If you try to walk around with blinders on, your business will fall apart around you.

This doesn’t mean that you should be unfriendly and tough or incredibly demanding. You don’t want your employees to be afraid to talk with you, particularly when something is wrong. This will only create problems in the future. You need to create an atmosphere where you are taken seriously while at the same time you are friendly, approachable and people feel they can trust you.

Click here to learn more about Barbara Pachter, author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette.

John Daly is the founder and president of The Key Class, the go-to guide for job search success. Click here to learn more about The Key Class, get more information on Thursday night classes in Santa Barbara, or to get his book. Connect with The Key Class on Facebook. Follow John Daly on Twitter: @johndalyjrClick here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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