Many leaders struggle with the desire to be liked by those they lead. It is after all a basic human need and none of us want to be disliked. Leaders often try to be "one of the boys or girls" with those they supervise. And while collegial relationships are a huge plus on any team or or in any organization, there is a subtle but critical distinction for those in supervisory roles. Kevin Kruse says it this way in "Great Leaders have no Rules."
"In friendship, your relationship isn't tied to anything other than the pleasure of the social interaction itself. When you're the boss, your relationship with a subordinate is about achieving specific goals. Whether that goal is closing a million-dollar sale, or finishing the new software module, or assembling a thousand smartphones, having an objective in your relationship changes everything.
"If you're the boss, its easy to say that you and your direct reports are 'equals' or peers. 'Hey, I'm just like all of you, I just have a different job.' It's easy to believe that you're the same as your team members and your role is just to coach. But it's just not true."
The desire to be liked keeps leaders from having tough conversations that need to be had, to making changes that need to be made, and from holding people accountable for results when they are lacking. When a leader cannot be honest with staff or deal with issues that need attention because they don't want to disappoint those they lead - they have lost the ability to lead.
I have watched divisional leaders blame senior leaders when they had to make a tough call because they didn't want to be seen as the bad guy. Senior leaders, likewise can blame the board for decisions they need to make but don't want to be seen as violating the "friendship." Our desire to be liked can directly impact the quality of our leadership.
Here are some things to remember.
One. All of us should be likable in that we treat those around us with respect and dignity. That is not driven by our desire to be liked but by our commitment to treat others with honor.
Two. Not everyone will like us and that is OK. The drive to be liked is an addiction to please people rather than to lead well and leading well will always mean that at some junctures we will make some people unhappy.
If everyone you lead always likes you, chances are that you are not leading well. Leaders make decisions for the sake of the organization which are not always universally accepted or liked.
Three. The goal of leaders should be to be respected rather than liked. Leaders who are clear, honest, direct and fair will be respected even when their actions are not always liked. They are respected because they are leading with clarity, fairness and truth.
To lead well, one has to be willing and able to speak truth to staff without their desire to be liked getting in the way. Leadership is a stewardship to a mission, an organization and staff. Not all will be happy with all leadership decisions but all will be healthier when leaders lead well. Any time a leader puts off critical conversations because of their fear of disappointing a staff member, they are allowing their desire to be liked to get in the way of their responsibility to lead.