I know I am not supposed to say this but I’m going to anyway…I want to be liked as a leader. I know, can you believe I just admitted that??? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that as a leader, you just have to get over the need to be liked. I have even said these words. And logically, I believe these words, or at the very least, that you have to find ways to care less about being liked. Emotionally, though, it’s hard to “just turn off” such a desire. Being liked means you belong and belonging is something almost all of us long for.
Today I am not going to debate whether this is a valid need or discuss how to get over the desire to be liked. Perhaps I’ll do so in subsequent blog posts. Today I am going to talk about likability and authenticity.
Recently, I was discussing my want to be liked with a colleague 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 do 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 the hard decisions that would make some people NOT like you?”
First, I’d like to establish that to be a good leader, you do not have to be liked. To be a good leader, you have to be well respected and credible which you gain through making good decisions, admitting mistakes, being honest, genuine and self-aware, communicating regularly and clearly (explain the why), and by living and breathing the mission. These traits describe authenticity and I believe that being an authentic leader is not only the best way to lead, but the only way to lead.
But in my experience, being liked is helpful and it brings a sense of fulfilment. Likability makes it easier to build stronger connections with the people you lead. When people like you, they want to be around you, ask your opinion, share their fears and worries, and partner with you to get things done. When you are liked, it’s easier to influence outcomes because people are genuinely engaged with you at a deeper level.
The risk with chasing likability as a leader is that it can lead to making poor decisions and can stop you from having much needed but crucial conversations. Instead of focusing on making good business decisions, you may find yourself focusing on making decisions that keep you part of the tribe. This is not being a leader, especially an authentic one. For me, there is no trade-off. Being authentic always comes first…leading always comes first.
I have learned to be okay with making decisions that will not be liked by everyone. I am not afraid to have conversations that are difficult. I am willing to take the long view even when there is pressure to make immediate short term gains. But that doesn’t mean that my desire to be liked hasn’t gone away, and for that, I am glad. My desire to connect with those I lead means that I put extra thought into decisions and conversations because I recognize that 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. And when I have to 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 uncomfortableness it brings because it means I care, I’m invested, and I’m human. It creates more opportunity to pause and reflect, asking 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 trump the desire to be authentic.
Lastly, and most importantly, I wouldn’t be being authentic if I didn’t admit I like being liked!
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post today. I welcome your comments.