Friday, June 14, 2024

Being liked v being respected – The leadership dilemma

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David Stewart, RYP International
David Stewart, RYP International
David Stewart (B Ed, Grad Dip Sports Science, master’s Business Leadership) David is the Founder & Principal of RYP International – A Coaching & Advisory Practice. For over 40 years he has worked globally with organisations, communities, sports teams, CEO’s and their leadership teams to develop their capability and culture to maximise performance.

It is interesting watching politicians balancing the leadership tightrope of being liked versus being respected. To get initially elected they must appeal to their constituents and be liked. Then over time, they must become respected – as this is what ensures long-term tenure. Credibility is the foundation of leadership.

No matter who a leader is, a trust continuum must be built for any leader to be deemed credible. It is impossible for any leader to be liked by everyone. Human chemistry does just not work that way. Whilst being liked and respected are linked, they are different.

It is much easier for a leader to connect with people early in their leadership tenure if they are liked. This helps build relationships, communication channels, and an ability to foster early engagement. It is the little things a leader consistently does that builds trust and credibility. It forms over time.

Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked.
Leadership is defined by outcomes / results, not by attributes
– Peter Drucker (Management Guru)

Being liked: When you are liked as a leader your team feel a personal affinity towards you. Typically, they find you approachable, personable, and observe you displaying a positive demeanour. They will feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns with you. Often people will say they enjoy working with you. Being liked stems from:

  • Practising gratitude and appreciation for team member’s actions;
  • Displaying empathy towards team members;
  • Taking a personal interest in staff and colleagues;
  • Having a genuine interest in the wellbeing of team members;
  • Having a sense of humour and friendly disposition; and
  • Being personable in 1:1 interactions with people.

However, being liked does not necessarily mean you’re respected. Some leaders prioritise being liked over making tough decisions, or holding people to account, or having difficult coaching conversations with people who are not performing or acting inappropriately. Often long-term leaders who want to be liked risk presiding over a “nice,” comfortable, and complacent team culture that underperforms. Early in a leader’s tenure, being perceived as nice helps create a positive platform upon which to lead.

Being respected: Respect as a leader goes beyond personal affinity. It is about trust and integrity. Leaders who are admired, trusted, and deemed credible have integrity. This means team members:

  • Trust your judgement;
  • Admire your expertise, qualities, and decision making;
  • Deem you as being fair and consistent (no favourites);
  • See you act consistently and do what you say you will do;
  • Hold yourself and others to the high standards you have set;
  • Observe how you role model the desired mindset and behaviours.
  • Hear to endorse, enforce, and apply the same disciplines and processes you expect others to follow; and
  • Watch you practise professional boundaries and behaviours.

It is possible to be respected without being liked by everyone. Making difficult decisions or providing the gift of difficult feedback will sometimes make people feel uncomfortable and possibly even resentful in the short-term. But over time this may settle down and, with the benefit of hindsight and some critical reflection, people can respect the feedback that was provided and the way it was done. It is how you make people feel as a leader, not whether you are liked. Feedback is often difficult to give, but the more you do it, the better you get at it, and the better it will be received.

Over time people will forget what you say to them. But people will never forget how you made them feel
– Angela Mayou

Finally: Whilst being liked as a leader can contribute to a positive team environment and team morale, being respected is essential for effective leadership and the achievement of goals and results. Striking a balance between being approachable and being authoritative is key to achieving likeability and respect as a leader.

Leadership Lesson

The goal of Leadership is not to be liked or popular, but to be proven trustworthy and respected.
If a leader loses the trust and respect of their team, it can rarely be reclaimed.

Facta Non-Verba – Deeds Not Words


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