Is Your Need To Be Liked Interfering With Your Leadership?

You’re a leader. It’s not an easy job. You must make tough (and possibly unpopular) decisions, offer constructive criticism, push your team forward, navigate conflict, and sometimes even let people go. And not everyone is going to like you. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. It’s also okay.

It’s natural to want people to like you — humans are social creatures. In leadership, though, your goal isn’t to make friends or be popular. And the need to be liked can prevent you from being the effective, supportive leader your team needs. 

The good news is that you aren’t required to become a cold, ruthless tyrant to lead well. It is entirely possible —in fact, it’s essential — to cultivate a warm, collegial environment that inspires growth and success without chasing popularity. Adopting these three mindset shifts can ensure that you’re prioritizing effective leadership over any insecurities you may have about being disliked by others. 

1. Pleasing people vs. leading people

Instead of being a people pleaser, shift your mindset to being a catalyst for your people to do their best work. Would Team Member X feel displeased in the moment if you didn’t give constructive feedback about an error on an assignment? Probably. But you know you can’t get results without addressing mistakes, and you do people a disservice when you gloss over problems. Try viewing leadership as your responsibility to help your team grow and achieve. Even if your feedback makes a team member unhappy in the moment, they’ll understand why you had to offer it. And it will make them a stronger performer in the long run.

2. Being liked vs. being likable

Being liked: Seeking and attaining the approval of the people around you, even if it means compromising your values. Being likable: Operating with clear values and treating others with dignity and respect, even in tough situations.

For every decision you make, there will likely be someone who disagrees with you. The need to be liked can skew your decision-making skills. Remember that your job as a leader is to do what is right, not to seek approval by acquiescing to opposing opinions. Instead of striving to be liked, make yourself likable by leading with your values and responding to disagreement with grace, kindness, and respect. Speak candidly, be clear about your decision-making process, and be willing to do the hard thing when it benefits the team.

3. Boosting your self-image vs. boosting others’ success

Great leadership is about the people you lead, and your duty is to help them succeed. On the other hand, the need to be liked is about your own self-image and need for validation. Shift your focus away from yourself and toward supporting your team as professionals. Hold them accountable for their own success, and hold yourself accountable for self-validating. You are there to inspire them, but it’s not about you. When you build other people up, you create trust, respect, and success for all — and that’s what matters in the long run.

Powerful question: Can you recall a time that the need to be liked caused you to avoid conflict? What was the outcome? How would you handle it differently now?

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