Let’s admit it – most of us would have hoped for nice bosses when we first started working. If you are unlucky, your wish may have come true.

What’s wrong about being nice?

Contrary to logical thinking, most people will choose to be nice to someone even though it means more work for themselves. This is particularly prominent in large organisations amongst the junior and middle management – where the mantra is “if I’m nice to so-and-so, he/she will reciprocate when I need help”.

Whilst it leads to a virtuous cycle if everyone is equally efficient, it can also lead to a vicious cycle otherwise. In reality, the latter prevails. In these situations everyone takes great effort to avoid offending, or not saying no. Along the way, big corporations become the “Forbidden Palace”, where politics, alliances, back stabbings and corporate tai-chi take over actual work to keep the pretence that everyone is nice, and everything is ok. A lot of inefficiencies to safeguard someone’s ego.

Backstabbing imperial concubines from the hit series “The story of Yanxi palace”. Recommended watching this to learn how to maneuverer through politics in the corporate workplace.

Nice Bosses

I’ve seen many bosses who are always laughing with their staff, giving friendly reminders, spoon feeding instructions and sugar-coating the feedback.

A good boss is not supposed to be your buddy. He/she is supposed to guide you to learn new (difficult) things, get you out of your comfort zone, push you to think critically, solve problems and accomplish greater achievements. It involves uncomfortable discussions, hard truth and the stomach to push someone up or out.

An old mantra that most nice bosses are bought up to believe- which is no longer true.

Nice bosses generally don’t do enough of this. I’ve seen nice bosses trying to give chances to underperformers,  shielding them away from criticism from other departments, or in some cases doing the work that the underperformers can’t deliver. In these instances, the team will instinctively feel the unfairness, and lower their efficiency. The mantra in these teams are “Why work so hard when the boss will always cover your ass?”

Everything is great… until the team get their bonus, which will be much lower than their peers. Good people will leave, and the underperformers will in turn become the status quo. Voila – the nice boss has effectively lowered the bar for his/ her team.

Being nice and inefficient is lethal for startups

Most people in corporates admire the lack of bureaucracy or politics in startups. They gush about how startups can get things done faster with less money.

The truth is that the toxicity of being nice and inefficient is lethal in startups where the team is small and survival depends on meeting goals fast. We’ve seen situations in startups where nobody is willing to challenge the person who is nice and sweet, but does everything wrong – the results are almost always the same, and tragic.

So there are a lot more honest discussions, quick firing and not so nice bosses in a startups – and this leads to more action, more passion and a much higher bar for everyone to reach.

Dilbert nails it again on how to tell the hard truth in the workplace

Whether you are a founder or an intern, you would always need to have this in mind – it is good for you, as well as the team.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].


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Prior to Momentum Works, Yorlin was in the financial sector in SIngapore and Hong Kong for 10 years - working with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, AXA and HSBC. She feels that corporate knowledge are undervalued in the start-up ecosystem and want to change this. At Momentum Works, she manages operations, overseeing joint venture operations with partners from all over the world. She always makes time to speak to people as you never know what’s the next game changer in the fickle world of fintech, e-commerce or mobile internet. In her free time, you can find her being the slave to her 5 cats.