It is human to want to be liked by others. As social animals, we’re built that way. But as leaders there’s a struggle. If we make popular decisions, perhaps our teammates will like us more. If we enforce the rules, or push them out of their comfort zones, they may like us less.
The hit sitcom The Office is a mocumentary of life at a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. At one point, an interviewer poses a question along these lines to team manager Michael Scott. His answer is both funny and revealing.
His response sums up his character perfectly – blithely un-self-aware and over-confident, he comically walks a precarious tight rope between doing things he thinks his teammates will like him for, and doing just enough to keep corporate headquarters happy.
He continually fails at both. His need to be liked by his teammates is so overwhelming that he loses their respect because of it.
Of course, this is just a TV comedy, yet the humor works because it rings true in the real world. Like Michael Scott, we all want to be liked. But it’s not our job to be liked. It’s our job to lead. Like a parent walking a petulant toddler out of the candy store, we have to recognize that leading well sometimes entails making decisions that not everyone likes.
Our co-workers are not toddlers. They are fully capable of understanding reasoning, so long as it makes sense and is applied fairly and honestly. They don’t have to like it. But if we explain our decision, it makes sense, and is as fair as we can make it, they will respect it.
And for leaders, that’s much more important.