Do You Need to be Liked to be a Great Leader?

Do You Need to be Liked to be a Great Leader?
November 10, 2015 Linda Murray

It’s an inteAthena Coaching, Linda Murrayresting question, isn’t it? Instinctively, most of us would answer yes. But do we need to be liked, or is it just that we prefer to be liked as leaders and as people? If respect is an essential part of a successful leadership position, where does the likeability factor fit into the equation?

It’s human nature to want to be liked and for women, with our nurturing and social souls, it’s even more important.

Here are three points that will make you think about respect versus likeability; sometimes it is easy to have both and at other poignant points in your career, you may have to make a choice to veer one way or the other.

1. People respond better and more willingly to people they like.

As a leadership strategy, being likeable makes sense. We know that people will work harder and more willingly for leaders they like, and, leadership likeability has a direct impact on productivity and team morale.

We want to think that we have the ability to motivate our team through the good times and the bad and if people like us, the easier it is to accomplish this.

The human brain is wired to seek out rewards, and there are plenty of rewards in working with a likeable person rather than one who is simply respected because they hold the senior role.

2. How far do you go to be liked? Where’s the balance?

“If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” – Margaret Thatcher

Mrs Thatcher makes an excellent point when she asks, how far you would go to be liked. If being liked is your primary leadership strategy, it calls into question the rest of your values.

What would you sacrifice to remain as the well-liked leader you are? How would you deal with difficult people or difficult situations? How would you break unpopular news to your team?

When it’s more important to be liked than respected, leaders find all sorts of ways to make others do the hard work for them. Let someone else break that bad news, and then you can remain in your safe likeable role as you console the team. Allow another team take the risk by being first to trial a new system while you kept your team ignorant and cocooned where you can manage them. But that also means giving away the chance for team growth and new successes that are important for team and staff morale.

If your primary leadership motivation is to be liked, you and your team will stagnate and it might take years before you realise you’ve all been left behind.

3. Are you able to make the unpopular decisions?

If you show your team you can make the hard decisions that no one else will, then you will automatically gain respect especially when you stand by that decision come what may. If you think about it, great leaders aren’t always liked, but they are respected.

Successful leaders recognise the fact that they have to do things that others might not even contemplate and that they have to sometimes make a decision that no longer makes them likeable.

Sometimes a decision will come down to trusting your instincts regarding favourability or daring to take the difficult path to achieve a different result. And hindsight will be the ultimate judge as to whether you made the correct decision at the time.

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