Leadership Journey: What If They Don’t Like You?
Leadership is hard, and no one really tells you that. You’re either so focused on making your way up the ambition ladder that you don’t even consider the hard parts, or you’re in a leadership position and there’s an unwritten rule that you can’t complain because you must be having a great time.
And don’t get me wrong, I love leadership. Building businesses and developing my teams is a genuine passion and I know I’m lucky to live that on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hard parts to the job that we all struggle with.
One of the hardest things is leading people who might not like you and the law of averages means that not everyone is going to like you. The truth is, there’s a good chance you’ll be liked less just because you’re in a leadership position.
Hating your boss is often a knee-jerk, automatic reflex, just like disliking your cable provider.
The desire to be liked
Wanting to be liked is a natural, human emotion and if some of your staff don’t, it’s difficult to stomach. How do you emotionally deal with that?
Of course, you have to deal with it. Chances are you’ll be working closely with these people and as a leader, it’s your job to get the best out of them and that’s hard to do if they’re busy disliking you.
I’m not so naïve, or young enough (unfortunately), to assume that I’m liked across the entire business as COO, but I’m also OK with that.
There will always be people who disagree with what I say or do. There will be people who think they can do it better. Then, there are those who are disenfranchised, jaded and whose general unhappiness in life is brought into the office every day.
Energy and time
But here’s the thing that we’re all missing as leaders: it’s not our job to be liked by everyone; it’s our job to propel the organization forward in a real visible way.
Which means we need buy-in from the business, but not buy-in from every single person in that business. There’s a real difference there. You could, of course, spend your time having one-on-ones with every annoyed employee. You could maintain an open-door policy and consistently hold group meetings that allow everyone to voice their concerns. Of course, these things are important and should be done, but they cannot take up all your energy and time.
Energy and time are the most valuable resources you have, and as a leader, you have to know where to place your resources. As your business grows it becomes impossible to meet every individual need. Instead, focus on finding a consensus across the organization and implement it.
Letting go of what you can’t control
You do need to be empathetic and respectful toward the people who don’t like you, and sometimes you will have to swallow more pride than you want to. But in doing so, you also have to detach your own personal emotions from situations.
You almost have to shift your thinking and employ a different mindset when you step into the office. You have to tell yourself, and really believe it, that any dislike your teams harbor isn’t really about you. It’s about business, productivity, results, KPIs, personal lives and a host of other factors you probably have zero control over.
You have to really, truly understand that you cannot be liked by everyone, and indeed should not be liked by everyone.
You must remind yourself that the people who aren’t your biggest fans don’t really know you personally. They don’t get the weekend version of you or the “home” you. They only see you in your leadership capacity and so much of leadership is about difficult decisions that affect a lot of people.
Give them what they need
Above all, you have to consistently tell yourself that your role is to give your people what they need, and more often than not, that’s guidance and vision, insights and direction, and real growth opportunities.
That’s what you have to provide above all other things, and while your teams may not always appreciate being pushed or the guidance you’re giving, later they’ll appreciate those challenges.
I still remember 2:00 a.m. work sessions, using a ruler to ensure presentations were perfectly aligned because my boss wouldn’t accept anything less. And while it drove me crazy at the time, it taught me that the discipline in the details matters.
If I’m driving my teammates slightly crazy now because of my relentless pursuit of both their personal growth and business growth, I’m OK with that. And … I’m OK with not fitting in at the cool kids table.