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Can a Nice Boss Ruin Your Career?

Bad managers impact our productivity as well as our attitude toward work, but a recent post on HBR Blog Network suggests that nice bosses might not be all they're cracked up to be, either.

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(Photo Credit: betsystreeter/Flickr)

The key is in the definition of nice. Almost everyone would agree that an ideal manager has qualities that could be construed as nice. Our favorite bosses -- the ones who mentor us, shepherd us through corporate culture, empower us to make good decisions, and defend us from detractors -- certainly fit that description. But there's one thing "good nice" bosses have that "bad nice" bosses don't have: strength.

Weak bosses don't have the clout to help their reports get their projects done, and or the conviction to head a problem off at the pass. Worse, HBR contributor Greg McKeown says, they might think they're doing the right thing by not micromanaging their underlings.

"This is a problem hidden in plain sight," writes McKeown. "The issue has been unintentionally camouflaged by leadership thinkers (I am guilty) who may have overemphasized overmanagement and underemphasized undermanagement. The majority of the leadership literature over the past 25 years has done this. But what happens if an undermanager reads an article, book or attends training of this kind? It may encourage them to continue in their hands-off, low control, absentee approach. They may say, 'Yes, I don't like to smother my people or control them.' They may speak about empowerment and enablement. All the while they allow their people’s career prospect to decline slowly."

So what's the answer for workers who are stuck with an ineffectual leader? There's often a limited amount you can do in terms of managing up in situations like these. But learning to recognize when your well-meaning boss isn't able to help you move forward is a good way to make sure you don't get stuck in that position for long.

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Have you ever had to leave a job, because of a nice, but weak, boss? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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