When Wanting To Be Liked Is A Problem

A desire to be liked and accepted is deeply ingrained in just about everyone. It is a human trait that often drives the actions and decisions people make on a daily basis.

In leadership, this innate driver is a problem. Some leaders’ desire to be liked is strong enough to override their need to be respected in the workplace. They want to be the leader, but they also want to be buddies with their subordinates.

When leaders place a high value on making everyone happy, they sacrifice good decisions.

We love happy employees. As consultants, our goal is always to work with leaders to create workplaces where people love to come to work. But, happy employees and thriving workplace cultures are not the result of leaders who spend their time pleasing everyone. They are the result of strong leaders who are willing to make tough decisions that are in the best interest of the organization.

We’re not talking about being a bully. We’re not talking about creating a toxic environment in which everyone lives in fear. Such an environment is completely counterproductive.

However, leaders who value their likability over their respectability most often wind up losing their influence and their focus.

There are many reasons leaders fail to make the right decisions that are rooted in a fear of not being liked or of making employees unhappy — and just as many consequences associated with the decisions that result.

Avoiding conflict

Conflicts are to be expected in the workplace. In fact, healthy conflict can be a tool for teams and organizations that strive to innovate and find new ways of achieving success. But when team members are locked in a conflict they can’t resolve it is the duty of the leader to step in and facilitate a resolution. Leaders with a high need to be liked often ignore conflict in an effort to avoid an uncomfortable situation. “It will get better,” they tell themselves.

Almost always, the conflict gets worse. While the people directly involved in the conflict may find it easier to avoid the other individual and not talk about the issues, respect for the leader deteriorates in the eyes of everyone on the team when the leader doesn’t resolve conflicts that impact the effectiveness of the team.

Working around the chain of command to avoid potential disagreements

More and more companies have adopted a “flat” system of reporting, where corporate hierarchy is flattened so people have more peers and few bosses. Successful organizations still have to have decision-makers and leaders. Clarity in knowing who reports to whom is about accountability, not personal power plays. People need to know who they are supposed to go to for information and who is responsible for the implementation of which projects. There are valid reasons for organizational charts, even if they seem outdated in today’s workforce, composed as it is of an increasing number of contractors, part-time workers, and teleworkers. The responsibility for getting the job done doesn’t change even if the workplace structure does.

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When leaders bypass other leaders, it undermines authority, decreases overall effectiveness, and breeds mistrust.

Playing the “I’ve Got a Secret” game

Everyone wants to be “in the know,” but leaders have to avoid discussing information or ideas that could have a negative impact on others if the information were made public. Leaders also have to be wary of sharing rumors or partial information that will result in people guessing at the truth. Sharing incomplete information will also result in employees not trusting their leader as sources of good information.=

Basing promotions on the desires of employees rather than the needs of the organization

Do the people on your team have the vision, experience, capability, and passionate desire to take your team or organization to the next level? If the answer is no, you need to look outside your department or organization for that talent. The challenge lies in the fact that, when you turn to the outside to fill a position, someone inside will be unhappy with your decision.

The decision to hire from outside the organization is especially difficult when existing team members feel they are more than qualified for the position. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re not. As a leader, your hiring and promotion decisions need to be in the best interest of the team and organization and not affected by the feelings of your current employees.

Strong leaders treat everyone well, but their actions are focused on the organization’s mission, vision, and goals rather than getting everyone to like them. Do you want to win a popularity contest, or run a company/team/division? As a leader, you have a choice. You can either be a great boss or you can shoot for the title of Miss Congeniality. You cannot do both.

The writers are co-authors of the recently published book, WHY LEADERS FAIL: And the 7 Prescriptions for Success.

Peter B. Stark, CSP, AS, is the president of Peter Barron Stark Companies. He and his team partner with clients to build organizations where employees love to come to work through employee engagement surveys, leadership and employee development, team building, and executive coaching.

Mary C. Kelly, PhD, CSP, Commander US Navy (Ret.) is the President of Productive Leaders. Mary’s team provides corporate training and coaching to help leaders develop the tools they need to improve morale, cultivate teamwork, enhance productivity, and increase profitability.

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