When It Comes to Your Leadership Team, Nice Guy Doesn’t Cut It

Written by on January 31, 2017

I was at an annual planning session recently with a client when the client brought up Leonard, an employee who is a non-performer. “Leonard is a really nice guy,” said my client. My response: “Nice guy is not a profession.”

It may be harsh but it’s true. Unless you’re in the charity business, keeping weak performers on the leadership team or anywhere on your payroll because they’re “a nice guy” is a recipe for disaster.

Picture this. You’re out camping and sleeping in a tent. You wake up and hear that unmistakable sound of a mosquito buzzing your head. It’s dark and you can’t see it. It’s annoying. It’s lurking and just waiting to bite you. You know it’s coming.

Keeping a weak performer on the leadership team is just like that mosquito.

After several decades of being an entrepreneur and an executive coach, I can tell you the longest time in a leader’s life is the time between when you lose confidence in someone and the time you do something about it.

Just ask yourself, ‘How many people have you fired too soon?’

Here’s what we know to be true at CEO Coaching International: We’ve spent the last nine years coaching entrepreneurs and CEOs all over the world and the clients that perform better than all of the rest, the guys and gals that just beat the daylights out of our average 39% compound annual growth rate for our clients, are the guys that have the best management and leadership team. They don’t compromise on top talent in any of their key positions.

Let me give you a couple examples.

A Wireless

leadership team

Rich Balot: Part of the job is having those tough conversations and saying goodbye to people for the betterment of the overall company.

My client, Rich Balot, is one of the largest Verizon dealers in the United States. When I met him, the business was on the verge of bankruptcy. His firm had just lost $8.5 million, was out of cash, the numbers his CFO was providing him were wrong, and his head of sales, who was a very close friend of his, simply did not have the chops to turn the business around.

Within short order, we brought in the necessary talent to upgrade the leadership team, especially in two key roles—the vice president of sales (one of the best in the country in his industry) and the CFO—and the company went on to grow from a $100 million business on life support to a thriving $330 million in revenue in just three years, with a very meaningful profit of double the industry average.

In early 2015, Rich merged his company with a much larger company. Today, the company generates $1 billion in revenue.


I began working with Grasshopper, a virtual phone system provider for entrepreneurs, in January 2010.  Early on, I led them through the “3 Provocative Questions” exercise. We quickly realized the company had some holes in its leadership team.

leadership team

Don Schiavone: Identify what critical skill set you need, what gaps do you currently have, and then go out and find the right people to bring scale to the company.

Over the next year, we replaced every person on the leadership team except for one—the new COO, Don Schiavone, who was a rock star (and now a coach at CEO Coaching International).

We brought in some strong players in marketing, technology, and finance, and that enabled the company to grow dramatically. The firm grew twenty-one quarters in a row and beat plan for nineteen consecutive quarters.

The new staffing plan worked. Grasshopper was sold to Citrix in May 2015 for a large sum, enabling the founders to have a meaningful liquidity event.

Build the Best Team Possible

If you want to accelerate your growth rate, it is mission critical to have the right people in the right jobs all the time.

When we start a new coaching relationship, we almost always find that firms lack a strong leadership team. Sure, your current leadership team may have been good enough to get you to where you are today, but deep inside you know you will likely need to upgrade to make the next big jump in growth.

As a quick exercise, take a moment and rate each person on your leadership team on a scale of one to five, with five being a rock star. Anyone who is not a five should either be managed up to a five in the next ninety days or be respectfully managed out the door.

The fact is, if they are not working out for you, it is likely not working out for them either. In most cases, exiting your company is the push they need to find a new opportunity that is a much better fit.

When hiring a key person for your leadership team, think about where you want the company to be in three years. What level of skill do you need to get your company to that point? Then hire that person today.

After more than 30 years experience in building high-growth companies, we have learned the following:

  1. Hire the absolute best person for the job, and pay up to get them onboard.
  2. Align them with your vision.
  3. Agree on what you want the person to get done.
  4. Implement a system of accountability.
  5. Get out of the way, and let them do their job.

Your friends can be nice guys. And your team members can be nice guys, too. But if they’re not performing, no amount of niceness can make up the difference.

About Mark Moses

Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. His firm coaches over 130 of the world’s top high-growth entrepreneurs and CEO’s on how to dramatically grow their revenues and profits, implement the most effective strategies, becoming better leaders, grow their people, build accountability systems, and elevate their own performance. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.

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