This is an excerpt from our book Startups Made Simple: How to Start, Grow and Systemize Your Dream Business. Learn more about the book here.
“A manager is severely handicapped, dangerously vulnerable, and certain to be ineffective if he is an approval seeker, a person who needs to be liked by his subordinates.” – Dan Kennedy
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius
Most people want to be liked, respected, and admired; it’s built into our DNA to want these things and get along with our tribe. I wish business was all about camaraderie, good feelings, and dancing around maypoles, but that’s simply not how it works a lot the time. The truth is that the most effective leaders, as I’ve shown, are usually not so nice and may even be actively disliked by their team. If our presidents, generals, CEOs, and other leaders in our society led on the basis of being liked, nothing hard would ever get done, and the organizations would likely fall apart.
In reality, many of the most effective teams actually have quite a bit of argument and disagreement; that’s how they arrive at honest solutions. Patrick Collison, the co-founder of Stripe, has mentioned that his Irish heritage and cultural tendency to argue over things constantly is actually a great reason why the culture of Stripe is so successful. They’re not afraid to mix it up, and this helps get to the truth of things and build better solutions. This can be upsetting to certain personality types, especially the thin-skinned.
As discussed, the average employee, if you’re effective and holding them accountable, may not like you that much. It would be great if they did (and as I recommend, you should hire employees that like to be held accountable), and hopefully you will at least earn their respect, but as discussed earlier, you need to produce consistent results, and that usually means being pretty demanding. You need the courage to be disliked if necessary.
Leaders that want to be liked will be very vulnerable to a host of issues, including the inability to confront problems, a fear of holding people accountable, a lack of assertiveness (they’ll get railroaded by aggressive employees under them), and the worst of all (if and when you hire managers yourself), the inability to deal with or report these issues to their superiors because they know it makes them look bad.
I hope you can see how badly problems can spiral out of control under this type of leader. They won’t confront problems, they won’t hold people accountable, the truth about problems will never come out (perhaps even business-ending problems or vulnerabilities, potential lawsuits, theft, etc.), and their staff may bully, ignore, or actively undermine them. This is a recipe for chaos and a toxic environment.
The Balancing Act of Leadership: Respected But (Maybe) Not Liked
As I’ve mentioned multiple times (so I hope the message is clear), leadership is not a license to be a jerk, and there’s no reason for you to be a jerk to be an effective leader. There are many examples of leaders who are well-liked by their team. The problem is that some people will think you’re a jerk merely for holding them accountable or noticing poor performance. This is the main issue of this superpower: You have to be willing to be disliked. But there is a balancing act I’ve seen great leaders do, and there is a way to be respected not liked. I think being respected, if this is something you desire, can be important so long as the person respecting you is respectable themselves.
Habits of Respected Leaders:
I believe these tactics and the other superpowers mentioned in this chapter will help you become a dramatically more effective leader. As we’ve seen, Leadership is many times not about being nice or inspiring but is mostly about vision, getting results, and a good honest rapport going with your team. The Leadership Superpower, in my opinion, is easily the hardest to master, so don’t fault yourself if you start with very few abilities. As I’ve mentioned, I struggle with Leadership myself, even after 17 years. You, like me, may realize you may be better served by hiring great leaders and focusing on your other superpowers.
This was an excerpt from our book Startups Made Simple: How to Start, Grow and Systemize Your Dream Business. Learn more about the book here or see our previous excerpts here.
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