People Pleasing Leaders

accountability avoid conflict blaming others business priorities business vision compromising values concept of blame coping mechanism decision-making desire to be accepted disappointing people effective communication empaths fear of reaction feedback individual needs kris plachy leadership people pleasing people-pleasing leaders saying no societal tendency Apr 29, 2024


In today's episode, we dive deep into the realm of people-pleasing, a topic that many of us can relate to. Host, Kris Plachy, self-proclaimed people-pleaser, shares personal insights and experiences, detailing the good, the bad, and the complexities that come with constant people-pleasing.

As leaders, we may often find ourselves bending over backwards to accommodate everyone's needs and avoid conflict. Kris asserts that while this can be a nurturing trait, it often also means ignoring the core needs of our business and, more importantly, ourselves. She warns of the perils of slipping into the people-pleasing vortex and the challenges that come with emerging from it.

But it isn't all doom and gloom. Kris also discusses the hidden strength in being a people-pleaser. The ability to empathize deeply, foresee potential conflicts, and manage tricky situations are all part of this power. But, as we know, even superpowers require balance and our host dives into ways we can harness our people-pleasing tactfully without compromising integrity.

We don't shy away from the tough stuff either. Kris talks about confronting underperformance without blame, the impact of psychological safety in an environment, and the concept of feeling unsafe in certain relationships. Leaders, Kris insists, need to employ grace while holding people accountable, creating a win-win for all.

Tune in to this thoughtful episode of Leadership is Feminine with Kris Plachy, and discover how to do just that.

"The world doesn't end when we say no, and ironically, it might just start."

Key Takeaways From This Episode

  1. People Pleasing in Leadership: Acknowledgment of the prevalence of people-pleasing in leadership roles

  2. The Strengths and Weaknesses of People Pleasing: The concept of people-pleasing as both a superpower and a poison

  3. The Impact of People Pleasing on Decision Making: The necessity of prioritizing business needs over individual desires

  4. The Fear of Addressing Poor Performance Due to Potential Negative Reactions: The art of giving feedback gracefully without blame or anger

  5. The Importance of Acknowledging and Addressing One's Feelings: The necessity of learning to say no

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Okay, friends, welcome, welcome. We are going to be talking about people pleasing leaders and welcome, fellow people pleaser. There seems to be a lot of us out there floating around in the world after a lot of these conversations I seem to feel like there's been even more lately than usual. I figured it was probably a good one we could touch on.

Now, I have a unique perspective about people pleasing. I mean, maybe it's not terribly unique. I just have one and we can talk through that and how I think it works for us and against us. And there's, just like any other behavior, there are, you know, sort of normal levels of people pleasing. And then there's people pleasers who really get themselves into a bind and create, as a result, create a lot of limitations and challenges in their lives.

And so I want to be cautious on this podcast to also acknowledge that I realized that there are people who have very genuine personal life challenges that are stemming from some of these behaviors that are really rooted in significant life trauma And so I, I want those of you who might be listening to this, who feel like that's true or who know that that's been true, or you're even working with a mental health professional because that's true for you.

I do not want you to misinterpret my focus here or to also dismiss anything that you might be feeling if for some reason what I say doesn't align with what your experience is. Right. I really want to come at this from what I observed in women and have observed in women who are in leadership roles, primarily founders, and bring that to light from my experiential, anecdotal, social, scientific perspective approach. Okay. So I just want to say that on the offset because I know the legitimacy of suffering under the weight of other people's perceived disappointment. And I also know that that could be debilitating and all sorts of results can come from that. So having said that, what I want to first introduce in my theory of people pleasing is that I actually think it's both superpower and poison.

I think that people pleasing is very common, more common than maybe we, we think, and, you know, on the surface, people pleasing is basically generally meant to mean that I say yes to things I don't want to do. I say yes to people I don't want to say yes to. I do things against my own will because I don't want to disappoint other people. I focus more on what other people want versus what I want. Right. These are kind of general, general things that people will loosely say about themselves being a people pleaser.

So one of the reasons that I call it both the superpower and a poison is that I think we first have to look at what are the reasons that someone might be a people pleaser outside of, you know, a lot of maybe traumatic experience in their childhood or what have you. People pleasers tend to be relatively sensitive to and understanding of how other people receive information and how they will feel and think.

Most empaths also are people pleasers. They are in tuned to others in a way that makes them feel and believe it's very important to be thoughtful about how they act around others. When we amplify that into a leadership role, we know that's even more compounded, right? That's even more significant because now one decision that you make as a leader could have a quite a significant impact on not just one person, but maybe a lot of people.

So I think that having that awareness and that sensitivity and that understanding of others is good. It tells us you're not a sociopath. It tells us that you are thoughtful, you are deliberate in how you behave and show up. You have a sense of others in the world.

I was just listening to a podcast the other day about narcissism with Stephen Bartlett. And I'm going to do my best to remember the woman that was on that podcast with him because it was fantastic. And if you haven't listened to it, I strongly recommend it because it was potent. But one of the things that the expert that was on with him, and as I'm talking to you, I'm trying very desperately to find the neuroscientist that he talked to so that I can give you that. Tali Sherratt. There we go. Tali Sherratt.

So Tali was talking about, or, Dr. Sherratt, was talking about really all of the different elements of narcissism, but one of the things that she said is that most leaders are, or there are very few empaths who are in leadership roles, which I'm not sure I agree with her. I don't know if that's true or not. I don't, she didn't, there was no science supporting that. It could very well be true.

I think there's a lot of leaders who are empaths that have had to absolutely smother who that version of them is in order to thrive in many ways because they don't have very good coping skills. And I think a lot of, and/or most empaths can fall on the high on the people pleasing scale. So I don't believe that people who are people pleasers can't be effective leaders. I think we just have to understand that that is part of our design and we use it to our advantage, and there could be opportunities for it to be a weakness.

So I also say that being a people pleaser can be a poison, right? And I believe that all strengths can be superpowers and poisons. I believe this is true for everything. I think everything has an underbelly if overused, if underused, etc. So when we overuse our people pleasing or we overcompensate for our people pleasing, we can compromise everything that we stand for. We can basically agree to living a life, to building a company, to hiring people, to conversations that we'd have no interest in, that we don't want to participate in.

But the problem when people pleasing goes unnoticed in ourselves is what we end up doing is blaming everyone else for how we feel. We don't feel good when we have to deal with these people, but it doesn't matter because it's their fault. There's nothing I could do about it. "I said yes to this party and I had to go because if I didn't go, she would have been really mad at me." So we blame her for the fact that you said yes. Right, so we become quite beholden to the opinion other people have of ourselves and the opinion that we have of ourselves in their minds that we think they have of us, right?

We become very beholden to how they are demonstrating feeling. We start and can often manipulate our behavior to please other people and ultimately become burdened by the judgment and expectations of others. And we never really notice how it's our own desire to be liked and accepted to avoid any kind of conflict. And so it's just easier to blame them, right?

Now, there's a reason that we want to be accepted because we know that as a human species, if you're not accepted by your tribe, you will be isolated, ostracized, which means you'll die. If we go back to the caves when we lived in caves. Yeah. So there's a real reason in here for this. This isn't like something's wrong with you. This is a coping mechanism that we have developed to be able to negotiate moments where we maybe aren't sure who to be. And if we never learn how to be, who we want to be, in those moments, then we continue to use a habit and a behavior and a coping strategy that is ineffective.

And as a leader, the truth is you are going to make a lot of decisions and implement a lot of action that people won't like, and they will blame you. They will blame you for the salary you gave them, the feedback you gave them, the chair that you make them sit in, the phone system that's stupid, the crappy computer they have to use, the new vacation policy, the not getting a raise this year, like whatever it is, they're going to hold you responsible for that.

And as they should, you're the boss. You're getting paid the big bucks for it, but we have to learn that that's okay. We have to practice and learn how to think about what we do as leaders and why we do what we do as leaders. Because what I know is true for most people, and it's probably a few of you out there who would disagree with me, but I do believe that most people don't start their beautiful business because they want to employ people, right?

You started your business because you wanted to make a difference in something. You wanted to impact housing, or insurance, or marketing, or food availability, or environmental issues or, you know, how people make and save money or, right? Right? You have a, you had a reason. It wasn't to like, employee 22 people and make them happy.

So as the leader of a business, we have to always have line of sight that we have something we should always be working to please, and that's the vision of the business, right? And there will be people who will come into the company who have competing interest with the vision. And that's okay. It's not personal. It's not mean, unless you make it mean, which we'll talk about.

But mostly it's just part of the job. It's the process that we have to go through that you made an agreement to work here. And this is what we're doing here. And if it's not something you would like to do, I understand. But we have to make those tough choices.

We have to advance ideas and change and initiatives that drive that vision. So, like I said, if, if leaders are going to be pleasing anything, it's, the business vision, it's to the dream, it's not to the team and it's not to everyone's individual needs. You're going to have to fire people, demote people, give constructive feedback, create clear agreements, goals that might feel ambitious, incentives.

You're going to have to fire and eliminate entire groups in your company, teams, make new ones. If you try and do everything so that everybody stays happy, trust me, it doesn't work. It just doesn't work. And it's, it's exhausting. You know, I am for sure a people pleaser. I, I self proclaimed empath people pleaser right here.

I am not shy about it. I do not pretend that I'm not. I have the hardest time just trying to plan like a Sage event. If two people can't come, I'm like, "Oh no, how do I make it so that everybody's happy?" And I go through, I just went through it again. I go through this process of like, "Oh my God, how am I going to figure this out?"

Until I finally realized, wait, what am I doing? I have to be that person who makes the decision and I have to accept the consequence. Because at the end of the day, the leader I'm going to be the most pleased with is me, who is a leader who has the integrity to do what she knows is the right thing to do regardless, not to try and get into everybody's head and make them happy.

I can't do it, nor can you. You can't make your kids happy. You can't make your spouse happy. You can't make your bosses happy. You can't make your, your employees happy. You can't make your parents happy. You can't make your cousin happy. You can't make your dog happy. Although debatable, because when you come home, right? Like, your dog. You can't make your cat happy. I know y'all know that. Okay.

So, What we have to do innately in the role of leadership puts you in a posture of disappointing people. So what we have to watch in you is when are you compromising the vision, the values of the business, and the commitments that have been made to deliver results in order to keep the peace in order to make everybody feel good. A lot of leaders will not address poor results. because they're afraid of how people will feel. They're afraid they'll be angry. They're afraid they'll be defensive. They're afraid they'll quit. They're afraid they won't be liked anymore. They won't like the leader anymore.

If you tell someone the truth about their results, they'll blame you for it. They may, and in fact, this week has been fascinating on my coaching calls. Quite a bit of that. Quite a bit of overt lack of results from people who work for my client, straight up poor performance, no hidden punches, nothing that nobody knew you were supposed to do, just straight up not doing your job.

And when the leader addresses it, the employee skids off the rails. "How dare you. How dare you talk to my employee without me there?" That was one manager who got mad at the founder of a company for addressing a breach ethics with a team member. The manager got mad about that. The employee got mad. "How dare you talk to me? I want to talk to my manager." It's her company!

There's another woman who overtly said you have not met this expectation and the employee found 400 different ways that it was her fault. Why am I telling you this? Because it's gonna happen.

We have a society of people pleasers. I feel like we live on either one side or the other of the world. Like, we have people pleasers. Nobody tells anybody anything. Nobody holds anybody accountable. Nobody wants to talk about anything that people did that disappointed or didn't meet their agreement. And then we have people over here who could care less, couldn't care less. I don't know how to say that.

Couldn't care less about other people's feelings, like without any decorum, without any grace, without any sensitivity, absent of it. So we're either all the way over here, absent of any sense of yourself and your impact to others. And all the way over here, which is, "Oh, I don't want to make anybody mad. I won't say anything."

We've been pushed all the way. And I do believe that you, you end up having to feel like you have to pick because if you're really focused, if you really tend to be a people pleaser, any sort of honesty, any sort of clarity makes you feel like a mean person. Why? Because the only other example is this person over here in your family or your community or your company who is like, doesn't care about anybody's feelings.

And then we got this person over here who may actually is a people pleaser, but they've been so sick and tired of like dealing with other people's disappointment that they got sort of this edge around them, a shell. And they went all the way over there and said, "Forget everybody else. I'm going to do what I want. I get what I want. I don't care about other people's feelings." But really inside they're still suffering because they're still feeling terrible, but they went all the way over there.

And now if they show any sort of grace, any sort of emotion, any sort of sensitivity, any sort of compassion towards other people's feelings, they think they're becoming what? Soft.

So now what? So now we got everybody over here in each corner. I don't want to be mean. I don't want to be soft. Great. Let's all just keep not talking to each other. Right? Now, I'm over here. I tend to give people feedback And I really try to do that with grace and respect. And I think for the most part I do. I think every now and then I lose my mind and that's why I talked about blame before. Brene Brown said it best in her Gift of Imperfection. She said that managers need to be able to blame someone in order to hold them accountable. So what I do observe in people is it's like somehow you need the inertia of anger to get over your people please to justify what you're going to do.

You don't need to be angry and you don't need to be in blame to simply say to someone, "Hey, we had an agreement. You didn't do what you said you would." Or, "Hey, I really appreciate the invitation for the 12th time to come to your house for dinner. I'm not going to be able to make it, but thank you." Versus, "God, would you just, why does this woman keep asking me to come to dinner? Doesn't she, can't she get a hint? Can't she take it? I don't want to deal with her." Right? Like. No, she's going to keep asking. She likes you.

So instead of like getting mad at her to make it easier to say no, just say, "Hey, thank you so much for the invitation. I'm not going to be able to make it." Or you could take it one step further and say, "You know, I've really thought about it and I don't think I'll be able to spend any kind of time with you socially. Not because I don't think you're a good person. I just don't think we have a lot in common." And those are tough conversations.

And for a lot of people, it's just not worth it because you don't want to deal with what, what they do back at you. You don't want to hear their words back at you. And it all stems from really this root of knowing that it's okay if other people are disappointed in you, because for the most part, you are safe.

Now I referenced this at the beginning of the call, because I believe that there are people, I know that there are people who have indoctrinated or adopted indoctrinated themselves with a people pleasing approach and are, have, have really had to cope. Because they aren't safe. They're in a relationship with someone that is hurtful if they become unhappy, either with their words or with their fists. And those people have figured out how to keep them happy.

And for any one of you who are listening to that, to listening to this podcast, I feel deeply for you because once your safety is compromised, it's terrifying. And I know that there are bosses who have employees they're afraid of. Literally, there are partners who have partners they're afraid of. There are parents who have children they're afraid of. There are children who have parents that they're afraid of, and they have a reason to be.

And what you have to understand as a leader, if that isn't your story, because I will tell you that wasn't mine, and I'm very fortunate. I know that. I had someone in my life who came into my life when I was about seven or eight who I wasn't in danger if I didn't keep her happy, but if I didn't keep her happy, I was ignored. So might as well for a seven year old, that's pretty dangerous.

Anyway, so I know we've all faced these relationships in our lives where someone else used their behavior against us And we learned how to manipulate our behavior so that we felt safe. So what we have to understand now as leaders is the first thing, if that's you now, you are in an unsafe environment, you absolutely, please just hear me. Advocate for yourself and find help. That is not a way to live your life. And it is not a way to perpetuate how women live their lives. It's not okay. And it's easy for me to say I really do respect that, but I just want to hold space for you that I know you're there and I hope for you that you can find resources to help you.

The 2nd thing I want to say is that if you are in a leadership role, I want you to understand that you will have people who work for you and this is their story. They are people pleasers because someone made them feel unsafe when they got displeased. And so those people can come to work and that can present two different ways.

It can present as someone who does everything you want and doesn't ever want to disappoint you, or it can present as someone who could care less. What you want, screw you or anywhere in between. So that's why as a leader, I believe that there's a delicacy that we have to develop with our words. I believe that if you- this is a firm core value of mine- that if you have volunteered to say yes and be in a position of authority of other people I do not believe that you need to compromise what you expect of others of you people pleasing.

I do not believe that you need to just be nice to people. I do not believe that you just need to let people get away with everything. I don't believe any of that. But what I do believe is you have a responsibility for your words. You have a responsibility for a level of decorum because words are incredibly powerful.

And for people pleasers, that's never been more true. How someone says a thing either spins them out or reels them in. It's true for you also. So how you communicate with yourself is vital.

So if you're a people pleasing leader, and you have found yourself more than once, which, uh, honestly, I, it's rare I don't meet one. Because I think often a lot of founders are very committed to a heart-centered mission, which means they're already of service.

So if that's you, then what we first have to do is just sort of say, okay; where and with who am I most likely to say yes when I don't mean it, or no when I don't mean it, or avoid altogether when I know I shouldn't? And what I have found is there's patterns in that. There's versions of people that are easier for you to say, "Hey, thanks for the invite. Can't make it."

Versus someone else. Like you just look at that invite over and over and over again and you can't, you don't know how to respond. And then there's people who are on your team that it's like, "Hey, you're, you're not working out your, your job. You're not doing your job. It's not working out. Not a problem." other people, you don't want that conversation. A hundred percent. What is the common thread between all of those? We've gotta figure that out because that's where the story is. That's where the narrative is that's perpetuating you manipulating your behavior in order to manipulate someone else's.

The last thing I'll say about people pleasing is that the world really expects to be pleased. Have you ever noticed that? Customers, kids, employees, your neighbor, your parents. Everyone expects the world to please them. Everyone believes that others should manage themselves to make choices they agree with and take actions they like so that they can feel good or they can feel better.

People should be nice so I can feel good. Teachers shouldn't be so strict so I can feel good. Restaurants should have excellent service so I can feel good. Doctors shouldn't make me wait so I can feel good. Parents shouldn't call me so much so I can feel good. Or we could just say, so I don't have to feel bad also. So regardless, we live in a culture that is literally that I think this is across the globe that believes that other people should follow the rules that they have so that I can feel good or so I don't have to feel bad.

So as a leader, when you have to make a decision or you have to take an action that you know, won't make someone feel good, you wonder if you really should do it and it puts you in resistance. But your resistance is really coming from you feeling badly about you thinking that they will feel bad. So you avoid the conversation. You avoid the decision that needs to be done for the business because you don't want to have to feel bad about them feeling bad.

And this is why we spend a lot of time just wishing that other people would just be different so that we wouldn't have to deal with it. But feelings are vital to leading. We have to acknowledge them and work through them rather than let us, let them hold us hostage.

But feelings aren't the truth about you, who you are. They're just a visceral experience you're having in your body. And we can move through that. We have to understand the difference between how you feel and what the business is looking for you to do. And it's so much of why I want to teach as many of you as you will let me teach you my framework, because once you know it, it becomes the thing you refer to to make decisions rather than your people pleasing, "I don't want to feel bad," human self. It's quite normal.

We can, we can leverage decisions made ahead of time so that in the moment, when we feel all the feels, we can feel the feels, but that doesn't mean we don't go forward with what we know is the right thing to do.

So if you're a people pleasing leader, you're not alone. This we know for sure. You're beautiful and wonderful and special and great and talented and capable. This is not a limitation. If anything, it just makes you feel terrible, but I bet it doesn't actually have the level of impact that you might be giving it credit for, but I do think you can feel better and I do think I know that we can all get to the point where we recognize the motivation for a decision for a yes, and for a no, and for an avoid, and for a go and we can decide, am I in someone else's business? Am I truly unsafe? Or is this just my brain's way of protecting me when really I'm safe? I just don't want to do it. You're not alone.

But I do think life is a lot better when we don't indulge the belief, honestly, the arrogance, if I want, if I, if I want to give you a sting that somehow we're in control of how everybody feels. The only person whose feelings you actually have control over are you. Everyone else can own theirs. Let's take that off your list.

All right. Thanks for tuning in today.

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