Home Articles Tips to successfully strike a balance between leadership and likeability in management

Tips to successfully strike a balance between leadership and likeability in management


Being a leader means making some hard decisions. It means making some tough choices. Sometimes it means not being liked.

Those in leadership positions, whether that’s formal leadership or informal, presidents or CEOs often have to make unpopular decisions for the benefit of the business.

It’s a fact of life, in fact, that sometimes, we need to make decisions for the greater good, rather than the individual.

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to cater to everyone, and it’s far more important for a leader to be respected than to be liked.

It’s natural to want to be liked. People want to be wanted, needed and trusted.

But leadership is about more than likeability.

It’s about your ability to bring people together, to inspire your employees, to help them grow and develop. It’s about creating an environment of trust.

Employees and clients need to trust that you are doing the right thing by all of them, not just one or two people. And that sometimes means having to make the tough decisions.

Don’t focus on being liked

Look at it this way: your job as a leader is to inspire people and encourage people to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do on their own.

This may not always be a fun process which is why you can’t focus on being liked. If you focus on how much your employees like you, you won’t do your job properly.

You’ll instinctively try to please people, which isn’t always in their best interests, or in the best interests of the business. Remember, you can’t please everyone, which is where trying to make everyone happy gets awfully confusing.

It’s your job to critique

As a leader, it’s your job to make your employees better than they are. You need to be able to critique, in a constructive way, to help your employees shine.

Because when your employees do well, the business does well.

You need to be able to tell staff that their performance is falling short, and then turn to them and ask how you can work together to fix it.

Those tough conversations and decisions we mentioned earlier, this is one of them. You need to be able to tell the truth, even if it makes you unpopular.

These conversations where you analyse and assist your employees’ performance may lead to moments when you aren’t liked by the person sitting in front of you.

The greater good is more important

A key thing to remember is that you can’t make long-term business decisions based on accommodating someone’s needs.

They may be a good performer now but what will they be like in the future?

Will their performance remain up to scratch? Their short-term performance may be a short-term fix. But you need to consider the longevity of the business, not the instant injection the performer may be bringing in.

Emphasise company values

Company values need to be enforced from the top down, otherwise they’re just words.

Employees should align with company values.

While decisions made may be unpopular in the short term, as long as they align with the values and ethos of the company, they’ll pay off in the long game.

Making decisions that don’t have the long-term future of the company in mind means they’re not consistent with where a company is going.

This can breed instability and resentment from other team members.

If you make decisions based on your need to be liked or to please that particular employee who is doing exceptionally well at the moment, you may put others offside.

There needs to be consistency across the team regardless of how much an employee is earning or the financial value they’re bringing in.

Good leaders must be able to say no

Here’s the thing about leadership and likeability: it’s tough to be friends with your boss, and as a leader, you need to be able to draw a line in the sand.

Essentially, you need to set an example and that always means thinking about the organisation, not necessarily everyone’s feelings.

This doesn’t mean don’t think about their feelings, because empathy is very important in the job, but it means putting the needs of the business first.

Good leaders can empathise with their employees without becoming emotional, and still make good business decisions without compromising feelings of the staff.

Good leaders need to be able to say ‘no’.

You need to hold people accountable for their actions and results. You need to deliver negative feedback directly. How can you do that if you’re best buddies with the staff?

It’s about respect

Leadership is, at the end of the day, about respect.

And respect isn’t given, it’s earned. Leaders need to explain their thinking behind decisions, they need to be open-minded, they need to be consistent and fair.

Leaders need to give people credit where it’s due, accept feedback and act on it, apologise when mistakes are made and model the behaviour they expect from others.

Being liked doesn’t equate to gaining respect. Being too liked leads to lack of respect.

Doing everything to make everyone happy, rather than looking at the big picture makes you look like a people-pleaser, without a backbone to do the right thing.

And that doesn’t command respect. Yes, being liked is a good thing. But being respected is far more important. In fact, it’s a requirement for leadership.

Lead with your brain and your heart

Leaders can’t be everyone’s best friend. You can’t always keep everyone happy.

It’s simply impossible. Even if everyone is happy with one thing, there will be another element that others don’t like. It’s human nature.

Being a good leader means listening to your head and your heart.

Understanding and empathising while still making decisions for the long-term good of the business and for the greater good of the company.

The solution seems to be: be likeable, not liked. What does this mean? Be kind, be thoughtful and lead with empathy. But don’t rely on the need to be liked.

Accept that there will be moments when you are liked and others when you aren’t.

Let go of the ego and lead.

Adam Flynn, Founder of the $1M Agent System, the State Director of Coronis Group Victoria, Award Winning Sales Agent, Auctioneer and Property Investor.