People Pleasing Leaders & Soup Sandwiches – 5 messes you make when you try to make everyone happy.

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?

  1. If the situation at work was a chest pain is it:
  • Heartburn
  • Angina; or
  • Cardiac arrest?
  1. What was the end-state he was hoping for from us working together?
  1. Had he already made his mind up about what he wanted to see and needed me to provide justification?
  1. 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.

 Click to read more about how to recognize your people

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?

  1. No one is satisfied – When the leader tries to please everyone … no one is happy.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Frustration rules – People pleasing leads to fractured teams and fragmented visions.
  1. 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:

  1. 25% should be crying that you are leaving;
  2. 25% should be cheering that you are leaving; and
  3. 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: