I sat across from a client recently who was struggling with the direction his company is going. As we delved into the matter I asked some probing questions:
How bad is the problem?
- If the situation at work was a chest pain is it:
- Angina; or
- Cardiac arrest?
- What was the end-state he was hoping for from us working together?
- Had he already made his mind up about what he wanted to see and needed me to provide justification?
- Did he want out?
Luckily we are dealing with heartburn chest pain; he truly wants his company to be everything it could ever be; He knows it can be better and needs help getting there; and, He wants to grow and thrive with his team.
But he did say something that stopped me in my tracks … “I am a pleaser and want everyone to be happy,” I responded to him that being a pleaser is like making a soup-sandwich.
How do you make a soup sandwich?
You take a slice of bread, pour a ladle of soup over it and cover that with the second slice of bread. What you end up with is not a bowl of soup or a sandwich, but a hell of a mess. Sort of what you get when a leader tries to make everyone happy.
Let’s accept one simple fact… Leadership is hard.
It is equally exhilarating and challenging, but it is hard.
Every hard decision a leader makes will inevitably excite some and upsets others. At the same time, we want people to like us personally and in our role as a leader: That can lead to people pleasing. When that happens, we begin to lead by opinion polls than vision.
What happens when we try to lead by pleasing?
- No one is satisfied – When the leader tries to please everyone … no one is happy.
- Tension mounts – People are conditioned to jockey for positions with the people pleaser leader. This creates a political tempest among people who should be working together.
- Disloyalty reigns – People don’t trust a people pleaser. They quickly learn what the leader says isn’t necessarily the whole truth, but what will keep the leader popular.
- Frustration rules – People pleasing leads to fractured teams and fragmented visions.
- Visions stall – Great visions take us where we’ve never been. That means change and who is happy with change. People pleasers like people to be happy … see where this will end up?
Can you gauge if you are a people pleaser?
Someone told me once that when you move on from your current leadership role the way to gauge that you have been a good leader is that the going-away-party attendees should fall into three groups:
- 25% should be crying that you are leaving;
- 25% should be cheering that you are leaving; and
- 50% shouldn’t care.
My guess is that when a people pleaser moves on … everyone is cheering.
Learn more about being a thoughtful leader by reading my book: