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Do You Work for a People Pleaser?

Working for people-pleasers may seem fairly innocuous or even desirable, but these leaders pose daunting challenges for their organizations: indecisiveness, lack of direction, inability to retain adequate personnel, low accountability and overall inefficiency.

Leaders who are people-pleasers want to be liked by as many people as possible to meet their psychological needs, according to Dr. Beatrice Chestnut, author of The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace (Post Hill Press, 2017). They endear themselves to others through three seemingly helpful communication tools: flattery, warmth and positivity.

People-pleasers’ need to be liked often seems dire and, as with most personality traits, is heavily influenced by childhood factors. Insecurities or fears manifest themselves in a variety of behaviors that are rarely acknowledged. When they please people around them, sufferers feel a sense of well-being, Dr. Chestnut explains. This is both comforting and affirming, and pleasers hope it’s enough to bypass any potential rejection.

The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Even though people-pleasers view their world through this warped lens, some positive behaviors often emerge. People-pleasing leaders:

• Value people, are great advocates and facilitate connections
• Serve selflessly, with a positive and inspiring approach
• Value strengths and talents
• Understand others’ feelings and needs

But there are many negative aspects, as well. People pleasers:

• Wear themselves out trying to please everyone
• Take on tasks they could easily assign
• Avoid taking charge and have difficulty making decisions
• Sugarcoat responses and resist honest feedback
• Portray a false image of friendliness
• Overlook their own plans, feelings and needs
• Tolerate bad performance or behavior
• Become resentful when things don’t play out in their favor
• Manipulate people to avoid asking for what they want

A Personality Style

People-pleasers can be identified by some basic outward behaviors, none of which are alarming in and of themselves. But combine these behaviors, and you’ll find a leader who’s likely to be a source of problems.

This type of leader is exceedingly (perhaps unnecessarily) nice and relationally focused. They listen well and offer emotional support. They are recharged when harmony increases and drained when discord breaks out. Their feelings may be hurt when unity is disrupted. They are more drawn to the “yes” people than to those who challenge or raise opposing viewpoints.

Leaders who want to be liked have a hard time asking for help or assigning work. Pleasers are outwardly bothered by those who fail to reciprocate with relationship-building, unity or harmony.

Leaders with these traits will also display resentment over being left out, having their suggestions ignored and being taken advantage of for their generosity. You may hear them venting their frustrations, but never directly to the person who displeased them.

Inner Workings

Avoiding rejection is paramount to pleasers, so they hide emotions that may upset others and suppress contrary opinions. They become adept at reading others’ body language and are sensitive to others’ moods and preferences, allowing them to “shapeshift” to the most effective position to win people over.

Pleasers cannot recognize their own neediness, resentment, desire to blame others for ruined plans and loneliness, even while they’re surrounded by “friends.” They repress frustration over the lack of social reciprocity or co-unity. This can, in the extreme, impair their perceptions, cloud judgment and lead to poor decisions.

Blind Spots

It’s difficult to deal with people-pleasing leaders who cannot see what’s obvious to others. Colleagues or coaches can help guide them by asking several key questions:

• Do you find it hard to say “no” to people?
• Is it difficult to ask people to help you or take on a tough assignment?
• Is being liked one of the most important things to you? Why?
• Is cultivating positive relationships the most vital part of your job?
• Do you struggle to meet everyone’s needs all the time?
• Does positive feedback give you an incredible high? What about criticism?
• What gives you the most emotional reassurance on the job?
• How do you feel when you upset or disappoint someone?
• What happens inside you when conflict arises?
• How do you handle difficult performance discussions with subordinates?
• Do you criticize yourself when rejected?
• Do your own needs go unmet? Why?
• Do you paint a positive picture for people, even when it’s not that encouraging?

Suggested Steps for People Pleasers

It may be a struggle for people-pleasing leaders to identify their traits, so it’s important for seasoned colleagues or a leadership coach to employ tested approaches when working with them. The process begins with encouraging pleasers to step outside their comfort zones and establish healthy boundaries. They’ll need to observe their emotions and responses to uncomfortable situations and learn to grow more comfortable.

The following steps can help them improve self-awareness and build confidence:

1. Grasp what triggers undesirable reactions. What kind of reactions would better serve you?
2. Embrace each emotion and process it. Find a way to moderate reactions.
3. Make note of the benefits when you break old habits and adopt new ones.

Pleasers should copy the following behavioral “cheat sheet” to their smartphones and tablets so it’s always within reach:

• It’s normal and healthy to say “no.”
• You’re not responsible for how others feel. You can control only how you feel. Leaders cannot regulate their staff’s happiness. People have their own issues, so be clear about your boundaries.
• Affirmation and confidence come from within, not from others.
• Act from the heart, not from a strategy. Staged behavior is obvious and detrimental.
• Make sure your own needs are addressed instead of playing the martyr.

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach

Trusted Leadership Advisor

Emotional Intelligence & Mindful Leadership

We help innovative companies develop emotionally intelligent and mindful leaders.

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