Should you be liked OR respected?
This post is a follow on to my last post, Underground Relationships. One of my readers said that he had a boss tell him that people working for you shouldn’t like you, just respect you. He asked what I thought about that. I have heard people say this, and in fact I myself have said a variation of that. I have said that you don’t have to be liked, but you should be respected. Different, but maybe someone who heard me say that could interpret it the same way. I think it’s a great question: How important is it that your subordinates like you? Should you work to be liked? Is it ok if they like you?
There is a reasonably good argument that if your people respect you, if you do the right things, if you are kind and thoughtful and a clear communicator, then your people will like you. There are a lot of reasons, though, that this may not be true. Some people just don’t like managers–no matter who they are or how they act. Some people react badly to peers being promoted to be their manager. (See Promoted to Manage Your Peers? Awkward.) Whatever the reason, there is no guarantee that subordinates will like their bosses.
So how hard should you work to get your subordinates to like you?
Let’s start with my reader’s boss’ statement: “the people working for you shouldn’t like you, just respect you.” I have to say that I don’t agree with this statement. In an ideal world, your subordinates should both respect you and like you. The quality of work life is significantly better if there is both respect and a level of affection in both directions. The important thing is to be very clear on where your responsibility as a manager lies. You are an employee with a fiduciary duty to the organization to deliver strategic results. As an employee of the organization, managers must do what the organization needs. Sometimes those things don’t make subordinates happy. Sometimes those things don’t make managers happy. On the other hand, managers also have a responsibility to adhere to their own ethical standards. Those standards include what they are willing to do for the organization and how they must treat employees and co-workers.
Now let’s look at the statement that I’ve made in the past: “you don’t have to be liked, but you should be respected.” What I meant by this was that you should do the “right” things, things that make you respected, but you shouldn’t do things with a goal of being liked. The question my reader posed has made me rethink this. It is my experience that there are some people in management positions who have a really hard time doing things that will impact their likeability. I believe that this is the wrong thing to use as a guideline when you are a manager. Your responsibility is first–what is right for the organization, second–what is right for your people, and I don’t see a time when your likeability should be a factor.
Unfortunately, though, it isn’t as easy as that. It’s really hard to find the lines that divide these things. What is right for the organization may be bad for the people; what is right for some people may be wrong for others; what is right for your subordinates may be wrong for other parts of the organization. Finding your way through these mazes is easier if you have strong relationships with people at work. If they trust you, and if you communicate clearly as to your reasons and the context, it is easier to find a balance between hard decisions that create unhappiness and sustaining organization performance and relationships.
So what do you do?
- Get clear on what your personal ethical belief is about how people should be treated and how those decisions should get made
- Get clear on what you believe is your responsibility to the organization as a boss
- Find your personal balance between these (understand that whatever you decide here could cause you problems–with your boss, your organization or your subordinates–but you’ve got to live with your decisions/behavior)
- Listen to HEAR what your people are thinking and going through
- Communicate clearly with your subordinates about the context and reasons for why decisions have been made, acknowledging the costs to people who are affected–this is absolutely the most important action in being respected/liked
- As long as you are comfortable with your personal decisions about how you navigate, live with the consequences