Accused of Being Too Nice As A Supervisor


I had a terribly difficult situation a few years ago that I wrote to you about. This person finally left the company, thankfully, as I was totally exasperated. The head of HR told me he thought I “was trying too hard”. Another employee told my manager the only thing she could think about how this situation got as bad as it did was because I was “too nice”. A good friend at work (that I do not supervise) told me I am too “humanly good” and not “principled” enough. He meant that I don’t do what’s best in my own interest as well as the interest of employees. I HATE conflict…and just want to be nice and get subordinates to comply. It is NOT working. I have a lot of anger about all of this. Please help.


Frustrated and angry


Dear Frustrated and angry:

You say you want to be nice and get subordinates to comply, and that it is not working. What works is to ensure that you are fulfilling your role as an effective supervisor: Work with and through others to accomplish the tasks of the organization. You should be looking out for the best interests of your organization first, as long as it is legal and ethical to do so.

The supervisory role requires a variety of activities and actions. Some of those involve building an effective team with a balance between being focused on work and focused on employees. Some of those supervisory actions also involve direct interactions with employees in the areas of training, supporting, directing, correcting, counseling, intervening, commending, and formal and informal responses to behavior or performance challenges and problems.

The things others have said about you all sound like broad hints that you are viewed as not fulfilling your complete supervisory role. It sounds as though you are fine with supporting and commending, but not so effective at the necessary but tough parts of the job.

You should talk honestly to your supervisor or manager about their expectations and their evaluation of your work. Ask for some very specific feedback: 1.) What should stay the same about your behavior or performance. 2.) What you should do more of. 3.) What you should do less of. 4.) What you should stop doing completely. 5.) What you should start doing immediately.

Those items of information, with examples, would give you something definite to use as part of your supervisory development plan. You might also want to ask HR for ideas about supervisory training that is available. Read books and articles about supervision and personnel management. Work at fulfilling the COMPLETE role of a supervisor.

One of the best things you can do is to look at your job description and use that as your guideline. Undoubtedly it will mention the activities I listed, as well as others. When you applied to be a supervisor you must have seen what was required to be effective in the role, and said you could do it. An open and honest discussion with your boss may help you focus on the specific areas that are problems, in that person’s opinion.

One thing is certain: You run the risk of losing your supervisory position if you are viewed as being ineffective or weak. On the other hand, maybe you are not a good fit for the supervisory role and you would prefer to not do it. If you want to stay as a supervisor you will need to start seeing your role differently. The main supervisory role is to get work done in an effective, efficient and appropriate way. You can do that by being friendly, helpful and supportive. But, just being nice is not enough.

Find out in what areas you are viewed as needing to make changes, then work to make the changes. Many, many supervisors are both nice AND effective–and you can be too. Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.