The Leadership Playbook: On the Need to be Liked

Leadership is a tricky subject. There are so many attributes, beliefs, and behaviors that make up a good leader that it’s impossible to come up with a single defining characteristic. And the same could be said for mistakes that would-be leaders make. Right now, one big mistake comes to mind.

The Need to Be Liked

One thing that leadership is not is a popularity contest. A leader can’t have an overwhelming need to be liked.

  • The need to be liked can prevent a leader from having the tough conversations that are necessary to good leadership.
  • The need to be liked can cause some leaders to avoid taking some action because they are afraid that someone will think less of them for making a decision—even when it is the right decision.
  • In the worst of all cases, a leader with a strong need to be liked will refuse to hold people accountable for fear of that person not liking them.

Not Feared, But Respected

None of this means that a leader should want to be disliked. How you achieve outcomes as a leader is every bit as important as the outcomes themselves.

The idea that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved if she “can’t be both,” is 500 years old. Much about leadership has changed in 5 Centuries.

  • The best leader you had cared enough about you to have the tough conversations necessary to help you see your blind spots. They weren’t mean-spirited in their criticism. They just saw something more in you than you could see at the time.
  • The best leader you will ever have will make the decision to do what is right even when it is the unpopular decision. That leader will weigh their decisions carefully and do what is best for the people that they lead.
  • A great leader will hold you accountable for producing results, even when those results are difficult to achieve.

The leader that you loved won’t be one that you feared. It will be the one that you respected and who cared about you and the people they led. By not needing to be liked, the leader earns the love and respect of the people they have the privilege to lead.

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