You know the phrase “the nice guy (or girl) always finishes last?” Well, unfortunately, this phrase did not disappear after high school graduation. It’s back, and it is manifesting itself in the workplace.  

“Nice guy syndrome” develops at an early age during the forming of the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional informational processing. Typically, those who suffer from “nice guy syndrome” inaccurately internalized their earliest experiences with emotion in the world: when figures such as their mother or father reacted with disdain to certain actions, like those of anger or sadness, the “nice guy” viewed these actions as “wrong.” This inaccurate internalization in turn caused the “nice guy” to grow up hiding any “wrong” actions or emotions that cause others to react negatively.  

Although it sounds counterintuitive, being a “nice guy” is actually considered to be a low value characteristic. This is because “nice guys” are often inauthentic: in an effort to avoid provoking any negative reactions out of others, they are constantly acting in a way that pleases other people, they avoid conflict, and they often fail to stick up for what is right. People cannot respect the “nice guy.” 

This is problematic, especially when it relates to managing employees in a business.  

Individuals in management are under an enormous amount of pressure to be relatable, human and nice, while at the same time to be able to make the tough decisions that serve the company or team’s best interests.  This is an almost impossible balance to maintain, and since it is human nature to want to be liked, those in leadership roles tend to prioritize being the “nice guy” manager rather than being the “bad guy” manager. The “nice guy” manager is constantly doing things such as empowering employees’ opinions, even if these opinions are not in the best interest of the business, letting small infractions slip, and letting bad hires linger. In other words, they attempt to make all of their employees feel like a winner. 

The issue with being the “nice guy” manager and wanting all of your employees to feel like winners, is that the “nice guy” manager ends up being the loser. This is typically due to covert contracts that the manager creates with the employee as they attempt to be the “nice guy.” 

In general, a covert contract is an unwritten or unspoken agreement that “nice guys” have created in their head between themselves and someone else. While the “nice guy” believes this agreement to hold true, the person with whom they created the agreement knows nothing about it. This typically presents itself in management when, in an attempt to be the “nice guy,” a manager gives their employees continuous leeway and second chances, hoping that their employees will like them, and thus perform better. When their employees fail to perform, (since they know nothing about the covert contract) the “nice guy” manager is left not only resentful, but with a team of employees that have failed to accomplish anything and have no respect for their leader. In essence, the “nice guy” manager ends up losing, while the employees end up winning.  

In order to avoid losing, it is important to avoid these covert contracts, and to establish clear expectations with your employees. This way, tough decisions regarding employee actions and behaviors can be made in a justified and fair manner.  

Ask yourself, “do I want my employees to view me as a ‘nice guy,’ or do I want my employees to view me with respect?”