Great leaders are like great parents: they nurture and care for their team but likewise they don’t cater to all their whims.
There are many ways to commit leadership suicide but perhaps one of the most repeated by young or inexperienced managers is confusing their own personal want to be liked with leadership’s need to be respected. No manager will succeed in leading people if they are disliked and feared, the days of military style leadership in the work place that of command and control are well behind us. However likewise seeking popularity as an objective of leadership is just as prone to failure as it is short cut to weakness. In the short term term you will be popular but in the long term when hard decisions are required you will fail. If the currency of leadership is popularity, you will either avoid difficult decisions and difficult conversations or have the way you deal with them clouded by your own personal need to be popular or liked. As a leader you have to get your team to want to follow you but this will come from being a respected, fair and effective leader, it will not come from seeking to be liked.
Managers who seek to be popular inevitably fail to make the tough decisions of leadership.
If popularity is a false currency for leaders, so to is power. Leaders can not force people to cooperate and you cannot replace democracy with dictatorship. A leader with no followers is not a leader. The real currency of leadership therefore is respect. Respect for a leader is built up through two main ingredients: trust and positive challenge. Trust comes via two main factors: value alignment and credibility. Value alignment comes from aligning the WIIFM factor of individuals with the objectives and mission of the work we do. When people believe in the purpose of their work they do and connect this to gains they make, you have a team that pushes in the same direction. Credibility comes from a leader delivering on the promises they make and from representing the team over individual want. This is one of the reasons why seeking popularity often stands in way of getting real respect as it encourages you to make un-deliverable promises and to favor giving one group something over other groups in order to maintain this popularity. This is the bane of politicians as to gain power they have to be popular but the need to maintain popularity often stops them being effective leaders. Credibility also comes from the character of the leader, the manager matching of expectations for what leadership should be.
Trust is not enough by itself to get the respect we need to lead. As a leader you will also need to gain respect by creating positive challenge. It is no mistake that people follow leaders with ambition. Inside of most of us is a burning desire to let out some inner greatness, a need to make a difference and this is why taping into this ambition is critical. People feel more inspired when they are working towards creating great things. However when you stretch people and push them to aim high, you of course need to support them too as you need to make the challenge a positive one. You set the team up for success and coach them to achieve that. As you push towards greatness you will need to have difficult conversations about: goals, timings, resources and performance which is why it is critical they look to you to lead, rather than pamper to popularity. Like a great parent has to, you will need to make decisions which at times aren’t popular or wanted but you will do this in the interest of developing your team and pushing towards greatness, giving the team what they need over what they want.
As a leader you will gain respect via providing positive challenge.
As a leader you must seek to be respected over being liked. You should remind yourself that your want to be popular, is exactly that: “your want” and NOT the team’s need. You need your team to look at you and see a leader capable of making them better than what they are, in a work sense you are their parent, the one who makes the hard decisions to help them be the best they can be. Whilst you should not take the weak route of popularity, likewise you should not take the power route of command and control as dictatorship leadership will fast leave you without followers. Respect is the way forward. It is a hard journey of consistently building emotional bank (trust) and setting ambitious goals but it is one which will best create an autonomous but cohesive team of high aspiration individuals. Seek to be respected over being liked.