What Keeps You Awake at Night?

Being Respected Versus Being Liked

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“I firmly believe that respect is a lot more important, and a lot greater, than popularity.”
Julius Erving

I managed many people during my career.

One in particular stands out when it comes to the matter of whether it is better to be liked than respected.

This individual was my tooling engineer. In that regard, he was responsible for the building and maintenance of all of the injection and blow mold tooling owned by the company, whether used internally or run at an outside molding house.

Ron was very knowledgeable about tooling.

He knew what needed to be done and when it needed to be done. But, he wanted to be liked by everyone he worked with. It was a passion of his and because of this he had trouble being decisive regarding certain decisions such as who should or shouldn’t run certain tooling or when maintenance was needed on a particular mold.

Because of this, certain individuals within and outside the company would take advantage of Ron. They knew they could play the like card to get him to do things he didn’t agree with. Then, when a problem occurred because of something he did or didn’t do,  they were there to blame him for the issue.

This bothered Ron to no end.

But, the desire to be liked was stronger than taking a stand or telling people, “No” when he knew what they wanted was wrong and potentially harmful.

And the sad part was, that while he wanted to be liked as a person and respected for his knowledge, to those persons taking advantage of him he was neither.

He and I talked about this many times, usually during his review sessions. After each meeting he would be a bit stronger in his approach, but when he met some resistance he fell back into his, “I want people to like me” approach.

And so he struggled with this throughout our work relationship. Is this something that bothers you as well And “What Keeps You Awake at Night?”

Being respected versus being liked is an age old question.

In reality, they aren’t mutually exclusive. Making less-popular decisions, or taking a position against something you know is wrong, doesn’t have to mean that you’re categorically unlikeable

It’s true that making tough decisions may make you a less popular person for a while. No one ever wants to buy the guy who makes an unpopular decision a beer.  And when you deliver bad news you may not win any friends that day.

This isn’t about hardening up and resigning yourself to a life of being respected but lonely. When not-so-easy decisions are delivered with care and concern, there will always be room for connection and relationships with your team, co-workers and business associates.

Your credibility soars when people see you doing the right thing.

This includes handling issues promptly and with confidence and integrity. When you are respected as a leader, you’ll often be liked as a byproduct. So, in the realm of caring about what people think of you, you should do the things that will earn the respect by those impacted by your decisions, even if it’s not today, but a year down the road,  when they look back and say, “He did the right thing.”

If we’re always focused on being liked that won’t necessarily make us truly effective leaders. A good sense of humor, displaying empathy, working as part of a team, and being agreeable are all excellent qualities that draw people to like us.

Inevitably though, as leaders, we sometimes need to make decisions that aren’t “popular” to elevate performance. Issuing edicts, making threats, and instilling fear into others, may lead to bottom line results in the short term, but that certainly is not leadership and definitely won’t make us likeable.

The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.” Margaret Chase Smith

Fear, is not to be associated with respect.

Instead, we should communicate the reasons behind why these sometimes tough decisions are being mad.  It go a long way in not only securing “buy-in” from the team, but also earning their respect, not their dread.

If you were to ask me, “Would I rather be liked or respected?” my response is, “Are those options mutually exclusive? No? Then, I choose to be both!” But if they are, I will always choose respect first and being liked, second.

There are however, many people like Ron, who crave being liked.

They will compromise their values in an attempt to make this happen, not realizing that the same people smiling at them and patting them on their back are also talking about them behind it.

Once they realize this, they are crushed. And they lose sleep over it because they realize that not only aren’t they liked, but they most definitely aren’t respected. And once you have lost people’s respect it is difficult if not impossible to gain or regain it. So what are you to do? For starters, don’t get yourself into that position. Make sure that as people start to work with you and get to know you, that they understand who you are, what you stand for and that you will not give up your views to establish a quick friendship.

Yoav Hornung – Unsplash

That may rub some people the wrong way. In that case you have to decide what a friendship with them would mean and whether it is worth pursuing.

To sacrifice your values to placate an individual is certainly not a wise career move.

Word will get around quickly that you will cave on a decision or action if individuals think you can be played. And you will find that once that happens, decisions will be made without your input and you will rubber stamp them , because what is more important to you is to get along, not to do the right thing.

I always told my people, Ron included, that I expected them to work with the other people in the company. There was never to be a “I can’t or I won’t work with that person” attitude. Developing a social relationship was something totally different and had other factors than just working together.

As long as each person cooperated and got the work done, that was what mattered. If they then liked each other and wanted to socialize after work that was up to them.

But the social part was never to get in the way of working together. It was not to cloud one’s judgment or to compromise their viewpoint or position just to make friends. So, there was a balance to be achieved and maintained. If that balance got out of whack, problems usually ensued.

In conducting your work, the same principles that apply to good leaders should apply to each individual as well. These are:

  • Honest enthusiasm for your work
  • Integrity
  • Great communication skills
  • Decisiveness.
  • Competence

If a person exhibits each of these, they should gain the respect of the other people they work with, even if they are not buddies. There are of course exceptions to everything. There are some people who show little or no respect to others, regardless of how good they are. That is really their problem and should be dealt with by their manager for the good of the organization.

In conclusion, we cannot avoid working with people in a variety of capacities.

As social animals we want to get along and be accepted by them. But if there is a choice between being liked and being respected, you should always err on the side of being respected. Because, without respect, you will not achieve the things that are both important to you and your company.


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