I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I’m going to anyway: I want to be liked as a leader. Can you believe I just admitted that? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “As a leader, you must get over the need to be liked.” Logically, I believe these words, or you must find ways to care less about being liked at the very least. Emotionally, it’s hard to turn off such an innate desire. Being liked gives you a sense of belonging and inclusion, two things most of us crave.
In this article, I’m not going to debate whether this is a valid need or discuss how to get over the desire to be liked. Instead, let’s talk about how likeability and authenticity work together.
Recently, I was discussing my want to be liked with a colleague, and he said something interesting. He believes a person’s desire to be liked leads him or her down the path to inauthenticity. He questioned, “If you have such a strong desire to be liked, how can you make the tough decisions, have the hard conversations and be authentic in the face of a storm? How do you overcome the need to be liked and make hard decisions that might make some people not like you?”
Let’s first establish that to be a good leader, you don’t have to be liked. To be a good leader, you must be well respected and credible, which you gain through making good decisions; admitting mistakes; being honest, genuine and self-aware, communicating regularly and clearly; and by living and breathing your purpose. These traits describe authenticity, and being an authentic leader is not only the best way to lead but the only way to lead.
But in my experience, being liked by those you lead is helpful, and it brings a sense of fulfillment. When people like you, they want to be around you. They are more likely to ask your opinion and give their opinions. When you are liked, it’s easier to influence your desired outcomes because people are genuinely engaged with you and want to help.
Being an authentic leader must always come first. Likeability should be lower on the list but not dismissed. Great leaders know how to blend them together to maximize effectiveness. Learn to be OK with making decisions that will not be liked by everyone; doing the right thing is always more important than making everyone happy. That being said, make sure you explain the “why” behind your decisions; bringing people along for the ride will create loyalty and trust. Don’t be afraid to have the hard conversations; people want to know where they stand. When you coach and guide rather than avoid or criticize, you help people develop their professional and interpersonal skills. Be direct, but do it with kindness and respect. Consider how you want people to feel when they leave your presence: empowered and believed in, or reprimanded and insecure? Be open and share things about yourself; allow people to connect with who you really are. A little bit of vulnerability and humility will go a long way in building lasting relationships with people who both respect and like you.
On this wonderfully intense, profoundly life-changing leadership journey, I’ve developed a thicker skin. I care a little bit less about being liked, but the likeability need still sits close to the surface. And for that, I am glad. My desire to connect with those I lead means I am more thoughtful about my decisions and conversations because I recognize what I say and do can have a profound impact on those around me. It helps me put myself in others’ shoes and see things from different points of view. It helps me lead with compassion and empathy. When I must make a tough decision that some may not like, or if I deliver a message that strikes an emotional chord, I am grateful for the feeling of discomfort it brings because it means I care, I’m invested and I’m human. It creates more opportunity to pause and reflect, prompting me to ask both myself and those I lead if I could have done it better. To me, all of this is what being authentic is about, and never does the desire to be liked eclipse the desire to be authentic.
Lastly, and most importantly, I wouldn’t be authentic if I didn’t admit I like being liked.
For more information, contact Kerry Siggins at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read her blog, visit www.kerrysiggins.com/blog.