Leading a team is like a dance.
One of the key steps to the leadership dance is finding the sweet spot between being liked by your team and being respected by them.
It’s critical for leaders at any level to consider the balancing act of respectability versus likeability when it comes to their team, as one or the other could emerge more dominantly. Still, great leaders require harmony between these two aspects of themselves.
Respect is the cornerstone of a high-performing, reliable, and motivated team. Likeability is also essential for building rapport, but sometimes leaders can mistake being liked for being respected, and that’s not always the case.
It's not uncommon for leaders, especially those in small businesses, to desire to be liked by their team. Sometimes, the mental game of being the boss is overwhelming, confusing and just plain complicated. The yearning for camaraderie, bonding and that sense of belonging is a profoundly human trait. But there's a catch here – your team isn't your family.
When leaders expect their employees to become like family members or even friends, it can lead to complications and misunderstandings.
This emphasis on being liked is often rooted in our innate desire for belonging. In the workplace, where we spend so much of our daily lives, this space can become a pseudo-familial environment that eliminates professional boundaries that help shape high-performing teams. These boundaries are incredibly important to have in place for the well-being of both leaders and their teams.
While it’s true that establishing an emotional connection with your team can make you a more effective leader and better able to support each team member as well as the collective – if the intent behind this is simply to be liked and feel belonging, it has its drawbacks.
At a basic level, we often mistake being liked for being respected, and this can rear its head as ugly surprises when constraints or pressure are applied. We might even find ourselves avoiding being the boss because things have become so overwhelming.
Before we delve into the significance of respect, it's crucial to understand the fundamental differences between being liked and being respected as a leader. While both are desirable qualities, they are not interchangeable.
People can like you for your personality, charm, and agreeability – but that doesn't necessarily mean they respect your leadership.
Being Liked: When you're liked as a leader, your team members find you friendly, approachable, and supportive. It often involves participating in an unacknowledged popularity contest, which can be short-lived. One of the drawbacks is that to maintain this popularity, you might feel pressured to say "yes" to every request, even when it's not in the business's best interest.
Being Respected: Respect runs deeper. When your team respects you, they see you as competent, reliable, and trustworthy. They admire your leadership qualities, appreciate your ability to make tough decisions and stay consistent in your approach. Respect is built on competence and dependability, and it takes longer to develop – but it also takes longer to erode.
If you’re a leader, think back to the type of leaders you gravitate towards and the balance of likeability and respectability they offered. Were some leaders more or less successful than others in either of these aspects?
Now that we've established the contrast between being liked and being respected let's delve into why respect is the linchpin of any successful team:
Building a Culture of Trust: A culture of trust and credibility is the bedrock of a high-performing team. When your team respects you, they trust your decision-making process. They believe that your choices are made with their best interests in mind.
Confidence in Decision-Making: Team members back your decisions because they trust your competence and consistency. When you're respected, your team understands that your expertise and the broader goals of the business guide your choices.
Effective Handling of Tough Situations: Respected leaders can guide their teams through challenging times, even when making unpopular decisions. Your team knows that you're making these decisions for the long-term benefit of the business, and they respect your ability to navigate those rough waters.
The ideal scenario is to be both liked and respected as a leader. However, when time and energy are limited, prioritise respect.
While it's natural to want both, remember that respect is the foundation of effective leadership. It's possible to approach tough decisions and difficult conversations with empathy and care while maintaining your focus on respect.
Resist the temptation to chase short-lived popularity.
When your focus is on being liked above all else, you risk eroding the trust and credibility essential for long-term leadership success.
However, you can achieve business success through your team and cultivate a thriving workplace environment while still being likable when you prioritise respect first and integrate likeability into your leadership approach.
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