Gut Check: Do You Have A Desire To Be Liked By Those You Lead?

February 17, 2015 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Do You Have A Desire To Be Liked By Those You Lead?Everyone likes to be liked. It’s an important human need. And social media has taken this desire to new heights, as we all strive to be liked on Facebook or LinkedIn. It feels good when someone likes you.

But I find this desire to be liked can get many leaders in trouble. In fact, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousands times: being liked as a leader is overrated.

This is a major theme in my book, The Leadership Contract, and a point I try to make with many of the leaders I work with. Being too friendly with the people you lead can really complicate your life.

To this point, however, my advice was based almost solely on my extensive experience as a leader and as an advisor to leaders. Even so, I was hardly surprised when I found that there is scientific research that backs up the idea that being friends with people you lead can cause problems.

Danish researchers at Aarhus University recently published a new study in Evolution and Human Behavior, one of the world’s most respected academic journals, which argued that good leaders or managers may actually not make the best friends.

The researchers found that when selecting friends, we prefer people who are less dominant. In fact, we tend to gravitate to people who are decidedly non-dominant or more cooperative. This means that the people in our lives who make the best managers or leaders – people who must be dominant as a function of their jobs – may not be the best candidates for friendship.

Study: Those predisposed to make best managers, may not make the best friends….
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This is a point that escapes a good many leaders, especially those who are first-time managers and just easing into leadership culture.

I find for many of these newly minted leaders, the internal desire to be liked by others is very strong. Many leaders believe that if the people they lead like them, they are doing a good job. That’s a false premise, and it can lead you down some dangerous paths – especially if you start making decisions simply to make people like you.

The great leaders who get this point understand that leadership can be a pretty lonely gig. That certain kinds of social interaction with the people you lead is inappropriate, and can make things messy.

Remember, being a leader means having difficult conversations and making difficult decisions. If you’re too friendly with your direct reports, what are you going to do when you need to call out poor performance, demote someone or possibly terminate them?

A friendship can make that scenario unpleasant.

Now understand that I don’t suggest that leaders be lonely hermits devoid of strong relationships at work. You can and should strive to build strong professional relationships with your employees. But that’s an entirely different thing than needing to be liked or needing to be friends with those that you lead.

This week’s Gut Check question: Do you have a desire to be liked by those you lead?



About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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