Trying to Please Everybody

[May 2, 2019] There’s an adage that says you can’t please everybody, but I regularly experience leaders who attempt to do so anyway. I see this all the time. Many psychologists have suggested that this trait might be innate to explain the power it can hold over us.

“When you stand alone and sell yourself, you can’t please everyone. But when you’re different, you can last.” – Don Rickles, American stand-up comedian

In the military, there are many of our nation’s most senior leaders who have been talking about this idea for some time. They warn against it yet leaders (actually everyone) fall for it, time and again. What are some of the problems, trying to please everyone, does for us?

  1. You will be perceived as untrustworthy and disloyal.
  2. You become more manipulative.
  3. You show that you, as a person or leader, are less valuable.
  4. You don’t attract people who are good leaders or hard workers.
  5. You create co-dependency in others.
  6. You will be less satisfied with your life and job.
  7. You will create enemies unnecessarily.
  8. You will have greater difficulty focusing on what matters.

Like me, I’m sure you have known someone what a real pleaser was. I’m also sure you know that the person probably didn’t like themselves very much and as both manipulative and not that likable. Being likable is important to attract more people to you and to create greater opportunities. Trying to please everyone (or just most people) does the opposite.

I’ve had to counsel several soldiers in leadership positions to stop this destructive behavior. I’ve also had to deal with some very senior leaders with the same problem. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a U.S. Army general who had his career ended trying to please too many people.1

As responsible leaders, we must intervene when we see people who are trying to please everybody. Their behavior never works the way they want it to. They may not like you for helping, but like a drug addict, sometimes intervention is the only way to fix the problem.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

25 thoughts on “Trying to Please Everybody

  1. Dennis Mathes

    It is normal, and it is natural to want to please the people around you, humans are social creatures, and we want the approval of those around us. But it is not a good thing to attempt to try to please everyone, as at the end of the day, we will wear ourselves out to a frazzle, accomplish little, and have to do it all again the next day!

    1. Drew Dill

      Seems to be an innate characteristic but we can overcome it by using our heads and not let our emotions overpower us.

    2. Kenny Foster

      I’ve seen this happen so many times, I am never surprised. It doesn’t matter what society you live in, this is a bit of a problem if it gets too much. Thanks Dennis.

  2. Darryl Sitterly

    Another article to add to the pile on my desk. My spouse put a specially-labeled tray on my desk for those I print out. These go into my “reading file” and I go back occasionally to go thru them with my highlighter pen. That way, I can hit the important points quickly.

  3. Janna Faulkner

    Dr. Harriet B. Braiker was a practicing clinical psychologist and management consultant in Los Angeles/Beverly Hills and Pasadena, California, for more than 25 years. She’s the author of “The Disease to Please.” I recommend the book. I read it a couple of years ago. Sadly she passed away. Here is a link to the book:

    1. Albert Ayer

      Thanks for the note on Dr. Braiker’s book. I too read it and she opened my eyes to the problem several years ago. I think the book was published back in 2002.

  4. Roger Yellowmule

    I enjoyed your article and shared it with two of my closest friends. We talked about a co-worker who is trying to do this and how it’s making our lives difficult. We didn’t know what to do but realize now that failing to address the issue will not make things any better.

  5. Max Foster

    A people pleaser soon starts to lose their sense of identity. This happens because they are giving some much of themselves away, that there will come a time when there is nothing more to give. They have to be on high alert and watch every word all of the time. They do this so as not to offend, and always be seen as the good guy/girl. For the same reason they cant really have an opinion on anything. Finally, people pleasers cant be trusted, because they will tell you want you want to hear, rather than what you need to know.

    1. Jerome Smith

      As usual, great comment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Eric Coda

    Thanks, Gen. Satterfield for another worthy article to put into my leadership rucksack. Oh, when are you going to have an article out about the “Leadership Toolbox?” Thanks.

  7. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Well-written, well laid out argument for not trying to please everyone. This is a common theme if you read anything from psychologists these days. Also many good articles on the Internet with this same subject (and also some terrible ones, too). Appreciate today’s valuable article.

    1. Xerxes I

      Spot-on comment, Otto. I too look forward to reading the comments section. Some of my favorite reading is right here. Some of these folks make me laugh, some make me want to hit them on the head. But altogether, good stuff. If you don’t read the comments, you are missing out.

  8. AutisticTechie

    I always look forward to coming each day to Gen. Satterfield’s leadership website and also reading what others have written. Thanks all.

  9. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Great topic. Too bad we don’t teach such down-to-Earth topics to kids in school. Instead it’s all about sex education, etc. when it should be more about how to be successful and how to fail. Good article. Thanks.

  10. Maureen S. Sullivan

    I personally had this problem when I was a teenager. I tried to please all my friends and they were happy that I was such a “great friend” that I would give the shirt off my back to help. More and more they relied upon me to do things for them and yet never gave back. Why should they? My friends saw me as wonderful initially but that slowly changed. I was just jelly, a pushover, and manipulative. They began to see me as a problem and stopped being my friends.

  11. Willie Shrumburger

    Thanks for another fantastic article on an important topic for leaders. It is so easy to get onto the difficult track of pleasing everyone that we lose sight of what our real job is about.

  12. lydia truman

    I would not say it is bad but it is not pleasant to be on the end of it.
    When I encounter a people’s pleaser, my eyes glazed over. I know it is fake.
    I will not ask any advice or opinions to a people pleaser’s, they will tell me what I want to hear, but life is about truth.

    1. Georgie M.

      Very good point, Lydia. Thank you. 🙂

    2. Shawn C. Stolarz

      It’s not bad, but it’s quite useless striving to please everyone.

  13. Army Captain

    Really good article on a subject we should teach more about to new leaders.

    1. Jonathan B.

      I agree. Another thumbs-up for this blog post. Loving it. Thanks.

    2. Big Al

      I agree, good article, thanks.
      This article is another reason I keep coming back.

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