Moving From People-Pleaser to Robust Leader

Being nice is good for business – until it’s not.

You may think that being a people-pleaser serves you well. Being nice is, well, nice. However, as a leader, this trait will ultimately fail you. It will stop you from expressing your true needs, wants and opinions, and will cause you to make some bad choices.

It also makes leading people a challenge. When things are going well for a people-pleaser, there’s nothing better. But the minute there’s a hint of discord, that’s when it’s very easy to feel that you’re not up to your job.

People-pleasing makes it hard to have difficult conversations, accept criticism or cope with others who are less concerned about pleasing you and don’t mind how their communication comes across to you.

This can mean excessive worry, rumination and a frustrating ability to be unable to say no. In turn, this leads to overwhelm, stress and panic.

Here are five tips to help you manage those people-pleasing tendencies and feel capable of being a more robust leader – without turning into the boss from hell!

1. Think: Time, Boundaries, Breathing. Despite other people attempting to create a sense of urgency around you, in 99% of cases, it’s going to probably be OK to buy yourself some time to make decisions. Being put on the spot can make you feel pressured. Check when they need a decision by and tell them you’ll get back to them. Make it clear that ‘now’ isn’t going to happen! Part of this is learning to set boundaries around your own time and refusing to respond to other’s last minute requests.

It comes with practice.

And if this feels challenging – practice saying it out loud first and learn how to breathe and center yourself so that you can remain calm. You’ll make better decisions and choices from this stance than from a hormone-fueled, knee-jerk panicked reaction.

2. Understand that not everyone is going to like/approve/agree with you or your decisions. And that’s ok – you CAN live with that! It might feel uncomfortable to begin with but we get used to everything given time.

This diagram can be useful to help you explore who ‘matters’ and who doesn’t – we all matter as humans, but we can waste far too much time ruminating over the opinions of people who don’t impact us. It’s also useful to use for tasks, behaviours and so on.

What Matters...

In the center of the diagram, write down every person ( or action/task/behaviour etc.) that really, really matters. This is where your focus should be – for people, these should be the people you need to be listening to and taking notice of. These could be your family, best friends, key clients, customers, your boss, your team…it’s up to you to choose who you put in here.

For the rest of the circles – and add more if you need them – you add people in decreasing importance. People-pleasers may have a tendency to focus too much on the outer circles – the wrong ones!

3. Know that every time you say ‘yes’ at work, you are saying ‘no’ in another part of your life. Every time you say ‘yes’ to a demand at work, you say ‘no’ in another part of your life.

4. Trust yourself. Think back to a time when you felt confident, bold and felt you had the capability to make robust, autonomous decisions that were effective. Did the world grind to halt because you made decisions that may have not won universal approval? Made a mistake or got something wrong? If it matters enough, someone will notice it and you’ll have the chance to put it right won’t you?

5. What really, really matters? I once worked for a boss who would empty her in-tray into the bin, (long before the days of the internet) and said people would contact her again if it was important. And they did. Her cancer diagnosis put things in perspective for her.  Make sure your perspective is one that allows you to focus on what’s really important and concentrate on that. Attempting to be liked of and approved of by everyone you meet will cloud that – honestly.

Emotionally investing heavily in everyone you deal with is exhausting and unproductive. Boundaries are important to help you do your job as a leader well. Striking the right balance between being liked and being able to lead boldly is one that will help you to be as effectively as possible.

Originally posted on Susan Ritchie – Lead with Impact.

Susan Ritchie

Susan Ritchie is a leadership coach who specialises in working with new and aspiring female leaders, helping them develop their leadership presence, so they can lead with confidence, create the right impact and excel in their role. She’s the author of Strategies for Being Brilliant: 21 Ways to be Happy, Confident and Successful.
She can be found at where you can download 5 Steps To Developing Your Leadership Presence – and why not come and say hello on twitter @susanjritchie.

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