There’s a certain failure pattern than I have observed quite often with middle managers and occasionally with executives, and that is “the people pleaser.” If you’re exhausted from trying to build consensus up, down and across the organization, this might be making your job harder than it should be.
Being a people pleaser is a personality trait that is not uncommon. Everyone wants to please someone, whether your spouse, your parents, your boss or your board. That’s an admirable trait. But in business, if you try to please everyone, it can undermine your effectiveness. Worse, if your goal is to be liked, you may find yourself making the wrongs decisions for the wrong reasons, putting personal feelings ahead of what is best for the business.
The problem with trying to be a people pleaser comes when you deal with complex problems that don’t lend themselves to a negotiated compromise. Or said differently, sometimes you just have to make a decision, consequences be damned. If you’re trying to make sure everyone is ok with a decision, or worse, that everyone likes you, you’re going to have an especially hard time making strategic decisions.
Good decision making requires getting input from many sources. But sometimes it’s impossible to reconcile all of the input and find a happy medium. In fact, trying to find such a compromise can often result in a worse decision.
Startups often have more ambition than resources. And so when choosing between different strategic options (expand in Europe or Asia? Invest in Enterprise security or SMB ease of use? Build a reseller program or hire more sales reps?) you need to concentrate your resources and not get spread too thin.
In these situations and many others, executives need to be decisive. It’s good to get input from different perspectives internally and from your board. But ultimately, a decision has to be made. And if you’re not comfortable with conflict or disagreement, you’re going to stall. It’s easy to schedule another meeting, ask for more data, another what-if scenario. Or worse, calling in consultants or an agency to help. Unfortunately, the cost of delaying decisions in a startup is significant. And often employees will become exhausted trying to make their case in meeting after meeting.
Moreover, if the executives are slow to make decisions, that sets the example for the rest of the company. Decisions that could be made in hours or days get drawn out over weeks and months.
This is one of the reasons disagreeability is sometimes necessary. As an executive, you get paid to make the hard decisions, even if it’s not the popular or easy decision. You have to steel yourself and recognize that making decisions quickly is important. The sooner decisions are made, the faster people can get back to work implementing decisions instead of analyzing, presenting and debating.
When in doubt, think of yourself as a consultant to the firm and ask yourself what decision you would make if you were not hampered by the desire to please everyone?
In a startup, you never have perfect information. Instead, you must be ready to make decisions with sufficient information in a timely fashion. Waiting longer to make a decision often leaves people blocked from doing their work.
Ask yourself, can you make the decision today? What would be the downside of doing so?
Of course, you should also be able to explain your decision and frame it in terms of the objectives and values of the company. Making decisions quickly with the best interest of the company in mind will be respected, even by those who disagree.
As a manager, your goal isn’t to be liked. It is to be respected. That respect is earned by being transparent in your communications, clear about objectives, fair in evaluating people, and making good decisions. Managers who are too needy will find themselves neither liked nor respected. And without a clear objective framework, their decisions will be worse.