Please, No People Pleasers

The best leaders are marked by integrity, honor, service, and not a little humility.  The complete absence of any level of bombast, braggadocio, or bloviation would also suggest that a person is now or may someday become a great leader.

In my life I have had and still do have the great fortune to know several remarkable leaders across the organizations in which I serve.  I try to learn from their example in any way I can.

Then there are the cautionary tales, people in positions of influence who set an entirely different example. I try to learn from them as well.  What not to do, that is.

Much has been (and is currently being) written about people who clearly don’t have what it takes to lead an squad of fruit flies, let alone a team, a department, a business, or the free world.  Not that I’m calling out the elephant in the room.

Let’s move on, though, to a different type of ineffective or sometimes destructive personality in leadership: the people pleaser.  I’ve been trying to figure out for some time the problem with a manager I’ll call Herbie.

The other day it finally hit me.  Herbie is a people pleaser.  While the term usually describes a person in a dysfunctional (codependent) relationship who will not face or effectively deal with another’s abuse, addiction, or dysfunction, it just as often can refer to someone who manages others by people-pleasing.  The sad thing is that this MO isn’t in anyone’s best interest, least of all the people who rely on Herbie for executive support, wise decision-making, and plain old common sense.

You see, people like Herbie have an open door policy because they want to be accessible, because the more accessible they are, the better people will like them, right?  This isn’t a bad thing except that people who have an agenda to grind or a sequoia on their shoulder glom onto the Herbies of this world (who will always listen) with their daily whine or rant.

So Herbie hears from so-and-so that so-and-so’s manager has the audacity to ask him to come to work on time every day and, you know, do an honest day’s work, and how unfair this all is and how mean the manager is.  And instead of giving the person’s manager a heads-up and the opportunity to find and correct the actual organizational problem, Herbie the people pleaser tells the complainer he’ll fix it for him.  Before you know it, word gets around to so-and-so’s like-minded friends that here is someone who will stop and listen, and who won’t tell you to get back to work. Then they line up at Herbie’s door.

People with entitlement issues or grudges, whether they be staff, customers, or spoiled children, can sense a people pleaser, and they will use them to their advantage.  This wouldn’t concern you and me except for the cost in morale from the majority of the staff who believe in the mission and who are there to get the job done.

While we can’t change people like Herbie, and we can’t change our organizational relationship without abandoning those who are counting on us to do right by them, recognition of the issue and its underlying pathology can be liberating.

Put differently, if you know the fire extinguisher is empty, don’t waste time pointing it at the fire.  Find another way; get rid of the fuel or get rid of the oxygen it needs to exist.


I’ll leave you with this article I found, in which the author, Ron Edmonson, has named seven casualties of a people pleaser in leadership.

If you know a people pleaser in leadership, don’t let yourself be his casualty.  Recognize the signs.

If you, in a leadership role, find yourself thinking about taking any action so that someone will like you, knock it off.  The people counting on you  want you to lead them with integrity – not seek their approval.

7 Casualties of Being a People Pleaser in Leadership

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