Thought Leadership

Leadership: Better to be liked or respected?

July 1, 2014

leadershipCertainly the average person desires to be both liked and respected. While a gross oversimplification of behavioral sciences, we behave in a way consistent with seeking out what we desire and avoiding what we don’t. Leaders of all kinds are often put in positions to make decisions that impact the lives of others. If our primary goal is to be liked, we act, or decide in accordance. The same is true if our goal is to obtain or preserve respect.

Earlier this year the world lost Margaret Thatcher, the previous Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She was once quoted as saying, “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”

I’m sure we have all worked for people that we personally liked, but didn’t respect the professional position, with the opposite also being true. With leaders seeking out both hearts and minds and hands and feet, what should the primary focus be? Ultimately, we need to look at what the role of a leader should be (e.g., thought leader, challenger of status quo thinking, advancer of performance and culture)?

Stephen Hawking, a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author once wrote, “Among physicists, I'm respected, I hope.” During a recent dinner conversation on this topic with very well liked and publicly respected CEO, he commented, “Being liked is more about an individual’s self-esteem.” I tend to agree.

Being respected comes from accomplishing what needs to be done and through creating the desire among others to do so without question, due to regard for the person and position. I’m very happy if those I work with and lead like me. More important, do they respect what I do and what I’m trying to influence them to do without my direction or oversight?

What are your thoughts?



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