The Three-Legged Stool of Effective Performance Conversations

If half-truths are lies, being nice makes us liars.

The need to be nice is about:

  1. Preventing offense.
  2. Keeping the peace.
  3. Protecting status.
  4. Being liked.

Being too nice often includes shading the truth.


Too nice:

  1. When protecting feelings prolongs frustration, nice is too nice.
  2. When strong team members hobble themselves, nice is too nice.
  3. When persistent low performance is accepted, nice is too nice.
  4. When feedback includes reasons poor performance is OK, nice is too nice.

Too much niceness makes leaders chicken out.

Nice leaders end up complimenting when they should call out. 

Too much niceness validates disappointing performance by making excuses for others. I’ve actually heard leaders explaining why the poor performance of others is acceptable.

An excuse is the reason poor performance can continue.

Too much niceness results in blowups. Being nice makes you wait too long to speak up. Then, one day, anger turns to courage.

The leaderly thing to do is risk offending someone in order to bring them benefit.

Three-legged stool:

The power to address disappointing performance and come out better on the other side is a three-legged stool.

  1. Courageous candor.
  2. Gentle kindness.
  3. Vulnerable transparency.

Gentle kindness, apart from candor and transparency, makes feedback useless.


You’re ready to bring up disappointing performance when:

  1. The future is more important than the past.
  2. You’re prepared to give candid, kind, transparent feedback.
  3. You’re open to the possibility you could be wrong.
  4. Standards and expectations are clearly known.
  5. You have examples.
  6. You’re prepared to explore and define new goals and behaviors. Negative feedback without forward-facing behavior-based goals is selfishly getting something off your chest.
  7. You’re ready to support forward movement.

It’s not that you need to be mean. It’s that niceness on it’s own isn’t enough.

How might nice leaders learn candor and vulnerability?

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