Respect in leadership is important when you want people to follow you. However, many leaders struggle because they want their people to like them at the same time.
There is nothing wrong with wanting people to like you. That is, unless it causes you to take actions that can undermine the respect people have for your leadership position.
Ideally, leaders would be liked and respected at work. It’s much more fun to be in an environment where people like and enjoy working with you.
However, which is more important? And what are the challenges of having one, without the other?
The Benefits of Respect In Leadership
When your team has respect for your leadership, you’re likely to see a number of benefits. Your people are more likely to be committed to your direction, follow your lead and stand up for what the team represents.
When your people respect you, you are more likely to see:
- Greater discretionary effort: Your people are more likely to go over and above for you, putting in extra effort when it is required to hit a deadline or solve a problem.
- Less push back: When people respect your leadership, they are less likely to push back on your direction, and more likely to follow you.
- Better role models: People who respect you will be more likely to champion your cause. They see what you’re trying to do and they want others to do the same. They’ll reinforce the environment that you are trying to create.
- Greater confidence: When people respect their leaders, they feel comfortable that they are on the right track, and that they are in good hands. This has a knock-on effect to performance, as team members are self-assured and act without hesitation.
As you can see, there are several important benefits to respect in leadership. However, respect is only one part of the equation!
Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Respect?
One challenge I see some leaders run into is that sometimes their people start to put them on a pedestal. In other words, they look up to and respect the boss too much.
This might sound strange, because surely you can never have enough respect, right?
Well, respect is great and you do need it to lead effectively. However, there can be some drawbacks for leaders who have a little too much respect from their teams:
- People don’t provide you with feedback: If people hold you in high regard, they may feel like they are unable to offer you suggestions or feedback. Sometimes, you need your people to tell you what they *really* think.
- Work becomes boring: Have you ever led a team where everyone is a little too serious? This can happen when team members have too much respect for their boss, to the point where they feel uncomfortable joking around or building rapport with casual conversations.
- Leaders become isolated: When team members put you on a pedestal and respect you too much, they may feel less comfortable approaching you. This can result in a leader who feels like they are all alone at the top, while their team members are the ones frequently communicating and supporting each other.
Some of these points may resonate with you. I’ve certainly led teams where I’ve felt isolated and less like a part of the team. This is a shame, because leaders should be able to enjoy coming to work too!
Learn More: Don’t Know Your Employees? Here’s Why You Should.
How Wanting People to Like You Compromises Your Leadership
It’s natural for human beings to want to be liked as part of gaining acceptance by others. However, leaders can run into trouble when this becomes a natural part of their leadership.
When you try to get people to like you, you are more likely to make concessions and compromises. You don’t want to be regarded as a “bad boss” or seen to be creating an unpleasant work environment.
This might mean you look the other way when someone behaves badly, or perhaps avoid having a direct, difficult conversation about an issue.
You may take on more work yourself because you want to avoid putting pressure on your people.
Leaders who strive to be liked often focus on the easy parts of leadership. They give people praise and spend time helping them develop. But they don’t do the hard work of confronting bad behaviour or performance.
All of the actions above are designed to make people like you more. You’re taking pressure off people, you’re not making them uncomfortable and you’re helping them to be themselves at work.
What to Remember When You Want People to Like You
If you feel like you’re at risk of falling into the trap of getting everyone to like you, it’s worth remembering a few things:
- When you protect your team from harm or confrontation, you shelter them. They may not grow and develop like you need them to.
- When you try to make one person like you, it might make others dislike you. One common example is letting a team member get away with poor performance. This upsets the people who are performing well.
- Being liked is no good when your team isn’t performing. Your own boss probably doesn’t care how much your people like you, if your team isn’t getting results.
Learn More: Bad Leadership (and How to Avoid It).
How to Balance Being Liked With Respect In Leadership
My approach to leadership has always been that I want to be respected and liked, if possible. But if I can only have one of these, I’ll take respect every time.
I believe it’s possible for people to both like and respect leaders. These don’t need to be mutually exclusive. However, it’s not always easy to strike the right balance.
Here are some ground rules that might help you.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Clear expectations are important in leadership. People need to know what you need, and what you want.
Without setting clear expectations, there is a risk that people will take actions that will need you to confront them, or provide challenging feedback. Confrontation and feedback can be daunting, and this can cause people to dislike you.
Being clear up front reduces the chance of conflict later on. This means you can build rapport, trust and positive relationships without as many bumps in the road.
2. Reinforce Boundaries & Don’t Ignore Problems
When people step too far over the line, behave badly or perform poorly, you need to step in and correct them. After all, you are the boss.
A challenging conversation might be required, but if you take action at the right time, you’ll reinforce the expectations that you set earlier on.
What you are doing is setting the rules of the team. As people learn about what you want, and how they are supposed to behave and perform, everyone becomes more comfortable with what is expected.
This is a great foundation for people to get to like you, and each other. When the rules have been set, people can have more fun playing the game.
Learn More: Setting Boundaries at Work: Why It’s Crucial.
Use humour, make jokes and keep things light-hearted where you can. Work becomes very dreary when it’s too serious.
Obviously, you need to be conscious of the humour that you use, because it’s important to be inclusive. Discriminating or being offensive to be funny isn’t really funny at all.
A good way to play is to stop taking yourself too seriously. Make a joke about something silly you did, so that others can see you’re human and can take a joke.
Take the team out for coffee or lunch outside of the work environment. Change the setting to see if you can cultivate a culture where not everything is all about work.
Talk about topics other than work. Discuss your weekend and appropriate aspects of your personal life. Make small talk a part of your day, rather than being laser-focused on work matters all the time.
This way, you’ll build rapport and trust. People tend to like people they can be relaxed with, and who they trust.
Clearly you need to take a balanced approach to humour and play. Playing too much can make you seem like a “good-time” leader and people may take advantage of your good nature.
However, I feel that it’s important to inject some fun into your work day as often as you can.
4. Spend Time 1 on 1, to Coach and Mentor
Team members often grow fond of leaders who coach and mentor them. They respect them for helping them grow and develop.
And they like them, because they realise the leader is investing significant time to help them improve.
Spend time one on one with your people. Learn what makes them tick and understand what their goals are.
Invest in their development and you’ll be rewarded. Let them stagnate and you’ll find performance reaching a plateau.
One on one time with your people helps you to see beneath the surface. You’ll learn what they like, what they don’t like and what their personal style is.
You’ll learn when and how you can use humour, and how far you can push the boundaries of their comfort zone to help them grow. If you feel that you’re too busy for one on one time with your people, you could be missing a great opportunity.
Learn More: 1 to 1 Meetings: Let’s Make Them Better.
Respect In Leadership Is a Solid Foundation
It takes time to earn respect from your team. Being respected is a solid foundation for building positive team performance and a cohesive, productive unit.
However, being liked also has its benefits. People enjoy working with people they like. It’s all about striking the right balance, so you can get the best of both worlds.
First you set the rules of the game, and everyone knows where they stand.
Then everyone can have more fun playing, bringing their best self to work.
People might just start to like you for it.