Likeable, authentic, and respected: great leaders are all three.
I know I am 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 that you must get over the need to be liked as a leader. Logically, I believe these words, or that at the very least, you must find ways to care less about being liked. Emotionally, though, it’s hard to turn off such an innate desire. Being likeable gives you a sense of belonging and inclusion, two things most of us crave.
In this episode, I tell a story about a conversation with a direct report and he said something interesting. He believed that a person’s desire to be liked would lead 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?”
After thinking long and hard about this, I believe that being likeable, authentic, and respected plays a significant part in exceptional leadership.
Let’s first establish that to be a good leader, you do not have to be liked. To be a good leader, you must be well respected and credible, which you gain by making good decisions, admitting mistakes, being honest, genuine, and self-aware, communicating regularly and clearly, and living and breathing your purpose. These traits describe authenticity, and being an authentic leader is not only the best way to lead; it’s 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 you are likeable, people want to be around you. They are more likely to ask your opinion and give their opinions. They feel more comfortable being vulnerable, making it easier and more fun to partner with you to get things done. 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. Being likeable should be lower on the list but not dismissed. Great leaders know how to blend them to maximize effectiveness. Learn to be okay with making decisions that everyone will not like; 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 conversation; 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 like 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 are. A little bit of vulnerability and humility will go a long way in building lasting relationships with people who respect and like you. Being likeable never hurts as long as you don’t let your desire to be liked cloud your judgment and hold you back from doing what’s right, even if it’s hard, for the team and organization.
Question of the episode: “I’m struggling with some insecurity, some baggage, and I feel like it’s holding me back from doing an outstanding job. What should I do?”
Baggage does what baggage does…weighs you down and holds you back.
This is an excellent question from one of my employees and one that resonates with me, too.
Several years ago, I met with a customer who told me that he was surprised that the founders of StoneAge hired me to take over the company. “I don’t think you’ll make it,” he said. “This is too tough of a business for someone who isn’t technical and doesn’t have field experience. You’ll never make it in this industry because you are a woman.”
This statement stuck with me. I had heard the same thing from a previous boss and had the confidence to let it go…but this time, it made me question my talent and ability. I began to doubt myself. Was I able to do this job well? Maybe I wasn’t technical enough. What if our customers shunned me?
One day a friend said to me, “You have clearly done a good job. Look at where the company is now. You need to forget what he said and move on.”
My friend was right. I was holding on to an insensitive and untrue comment. Doing so weighed on my confidence. But the comment didn’t matter. I let it go and accepted that I did have what it takes to run a company in a male-dominated industry.
My advice to her was this:
Examine where your insecurities are coming from. Why are you letting your insecurities determine your future? If you want to let them go, dig in and understand where they come from.
Did something happen where you were called a failure? Did someone not believe in you when you were younger? If so, forgive them for these insensitive comments. Why? Forgiveness is the fastest way to be able to say, “Thank you for your feedback. I’m going to take what serves me, and I’m letting the rest go because it’s holding me back.”
The second thing I told her is this: “If you believe that you are not good at something but want to be, do more of it.” Read books, hire a coach, ask questions of a mentor, and practice. It’s okay if you make mistakes. You’ll learn more by taking a few risks and learning what works and what doesn’t work.
The only way to do hard things is to do hard things. The only way to get better at doing hard things is to do more hard things. And as you do hard things and you find successes, even if they’re small ones at first. As you push yourself, you’ll expand your competency zone, gain more confidence and lose that baggage.
Want more on this topic? Check out this post on how to be an accountable leader.
Thanks for reading, and as always, please comment, like, and share to spread the word.