Research released in the Harvard Business Review article “Nice or Tough: Which Approach Engages Employees Most?” by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman describes the results of a survey conducted by the leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman. The research surveyed nearly 161,000 employees working for 31,000 leaders seeking to answer the question what leadership style drives employee engagement – is it better to be tough or nice?
The research focused on how engaged people are working for two different types of leaders “enhancers” and “drivers” which were defined as follows:
“Drivers are very good at establishing high standards of excellence, getting people to stretch for goals that go beyond what they originally thought possible, keeping people focused on the highest priority goals and objectives, doing everything possible to achieve those goals, and continually improving.
Enhancers, by contrast, are very good at staying in touch with the issues and concerns of others, acting as role models, giving honest feedback in a helpful way, developing people, and maintaining trust.” – Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
The researchers found that of the top 10% of engaged and satisfied employees, leadership styles which produced engaged employees were as follows:
- 8.9% of those who had tough leaders were in the top 10%
- 6.7% of those who had nice leaders were in the top 10%
- 68% of those who had both tough and nice leaders were in the top 10%
The Challenge: Be Tough AND Nice
Being nice and tough are two sides of the same coin. The best leaders balance both – being nice and tough. Paradoxically people who trust, respect and buy-in into the leaders vision want to be challenged.
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in the article summarise their findings as follows:
“Leaders with highly engaged employees know how to demand a great deal from employees, but are also seen as considerate, trusting, collaborative, and great developers of people. In our view, the lesson then is that those of you who consider yourself to be drivers should not be afraid to be the “nice guy.” And all of you aspiring nice guys should not view that as incompatable with setting demanding goals.” – Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
The challenging in combining nice and tough is the overcoming the fear of being too soft or touchy feely on one one side and being disliked on the other.
“The two approaches are like the oars of a boat. Both need to be used with equal force” – Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
What about you. . .
- Are you too nice?
- Are you too tough?
- What changes do you need to make?