3 Ways to overcome the need to be liked

Good leaders know the value of people and relationships. They connect authentically and meaningfully with others through a genuine interest in people’s lives – in and out of work. We follow leaders who care.

Similarly, we all want to be liked. Why? At our core we are social – we want to feel accepted, valued and that we fit in.

What’s wrong with wanting to be liked? Nothing. The problem lies, when we need to be liked vs want to be liked. A leader’s boundaries around ‘people and relationships’ get blurred when leaders care too much about how they will be perceived (self-focused) versus the duty of care they have to others in being an effective leader (others-focused).

Your relationships are for a purpose and that’s to achieve the vision and harness the potential in your people. You can know someone’s cat’s name but at the same time you’ve got to be able to share when that person’s performance is lacking. You have to be in both conversations – Kylie Bishop, Group Executive, P&C, Medibank

Here are some tell-tale signs that your need to be liked matters more than it should:

  • You sway from your position, give in too easily, or don’t take stand when others are counting on it.
  • You don’t speak up because you’re afraid of how you’ll be perceived.
  • You avoid conflict or don’t share bad news by not saying what needs to be said
  • You don’t give the feedback because you’re not sure how someone will take it.
  • You say yes too often. For example, you take on more work and spread yourself too thin.
  • You over-analyse how you might be judged (which means you criticise yourself).
  • You take everything to heart. For example, you over-analyse things in a way that makes it about you.
  • You don’t call out the attitudes/behaviours of others.

Your leadership effectiveness doesn’t rely on you being liked.

Leadership is never a popularity contest. Your judgements and decisions will not always be liked, and you can still lead with care and compassion. People don’t have to like you to respect you. You are not your job. And you will make mistakes.

The need to be liked is driven by the fear of being judged, unpinned by the fear of not being good enough. As a result, we stay in our comfort zone and play it safe. This self-protection mechanism works, but it can keep us stuck and, as a leader, damage our brand and career.

As a leader people will respect you more if you speak up, stand for something and show who you really are.

Here’s a simple way to overcome the need to be liked:

1. Stop making it about you

Accept yourself as you are. Accept that not everyone will like you. You are not there to make friends and your personal connections can still be important.

Remember that you don’t have control over what others think of you. But you can take charge of what you think about yourself.

2. Back yourself 

Trust yourself in the action that you’re going to take. As a leader it’s your role to make tough decisions, give tough (constructive) feedback, have tough conversations, and hold the line on standards.

3. Take the lead

Establish the boundaries that will work for you and don’t compromise them.  Be aware of your emotional triggers. Focus on using sound judgement to progress things forward (versus being judged). Communicating your intentions can also help.

Lastly, while you might not be aware of how needing to be liked is getting in your way, others who are relying on your leadership effectiveness will be aware.  Seeking feedback might be a good step to help you assess the progress that will benefit you.

What are the ways you can have greater impact and influence in your role by making it less about you? I’d love to know.

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