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TCFP180: Is it Better to be Liked or Respected?

Would you rather be liked or respected? Many leaders focus too heavily on being liked and, as a result, struggle to be decisive and enforce standards. Today on the Champion Forum Podcast, we discuss the tension between being liked and being respected as a leader and bring some perspective to this polarizing discussion.


Being liked and being respected in the workplace are neither opposites nor absolutes. Even though you may not be liked and respected equally, you can be liked and respected at the same time.


The desire to be liked in itself isn’t a bad thing. People tend to want to work with and follow people they like. Not everyone will like you, and it’s not your job to get everyone to like you. In fact, people will follow a good leader over someone they like. Good leaders build trust, respect, and credibility through their actions. However, most leaders get caught up in trying to be liked, which is bad for business. Wanting to be liked too much causes us to make bad decisions or be indecisive. Instead of doing what needs to be done, we think too much about what our teams think about us.


The results of wanting to be liked too much often look like this:

  • lax standards

  • being seen as ineffective

  • struggling with making difficult decisions (firing, giving feedback, coaching, restructuring)

  • saying “yes” when you should say “no”

  • not challenging senior leaders

  • letting customers walk all over you


Q: Did you ever work for a leader who just wanted to be liked? What other negative consequences did you see? How did it affect your relationship? Do you think that leaders should try to be liked? Why or why not?


How to Become More Respected

1) Set higher expectations around performance.


2) Be understanding but less lenient.

Suppose people are consistently under-delivering, or you find yourself regularly justifying their performance. In that case, you probably need to be firmer in what you expect and provide consequences when people fail to deliver.


3) Have more uncomfortable conversations. If you find yourself avoiding or working around difficult conversations with people, it is time to get additional training or coaching in performance management.


4) Follow through on decisions even when you know they will upset people.

Good leaders don’t worry about compromise at the expense of sound decision-making. It is better to err on the decisive side than worry about getting it wrong. Your credibility soars when people see you doing the right thing– handling issues promptly and confidently, and most of all, with integrity.


Q: Which of these areas do you feel you need to work on most? Why? Describe a time when you made a difficult decision. How did your team respond? How did that experience affect your willingness to make a difficult decision later in your leadership tenure?


Application Activities:

1. Have a third-party assess your team’s performance and expectations. Our team has helped several senior leaders by building a custom assessment and delivering it to key people in your organization. The survey is anonymous and covers company culture, leadership dynamics, and perceptions of the people. We then help develop a strategy to help begin the process of change. If you’re interested in scheduling a call to learn more, click here.


2. Obedience is not necessarily a sign that your team respects you. In fact, you may be getting compliance instead of real buy-in. Your team might be complying if they do exactly what you ask, nothing more. They don’t come up with new ideas or challenge how things are done. If you think this may be the case, I want to challenge you to focus on building relationships. As you show real investment in what your people are doing, they will come to like and respect you more. Try using your one-on-one time to dive into what your team members like about their job or where they see their career going. Ask them for their ideas or suggestions. Then follow up! Consistent investment over a long period of time will help bridge the gap between you and your employees and create a greater level of like and respect.


3. Ask other members of your organization what they think about your team and their performance. How do their perceptions line up with yours? It is time to recalibrate if you consistently hear that their perceptions are lower than yours. Consider the areas with the most significant differential first. For example, if you think your team’s communication is excellent, but other departments complain that they don’t get the information they need, start evaluating your standards in that area. Keep asking for feedback so that you can assess your progress.


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