Any parent who has ever said no to a child understands that leadership is not about being popular. You have to be secure within yourself to do the right thing – for the benefit of the greater whole. A recent consulting project reminded me of this. A CEO was brought in to a failing company eighteen months previously to bring it out of the red and make it profitable. The former CEO was known throughout the organization as “Mr. Popular.” Everyone loved him. He was their “buddy.” Expense cheques were freely approved. There was no such thing as budgets. And, like the inattentive captain of the Costa Concordia, he was driving the company into the rocks of bankruptcy. While all the partying and love fest was going on, most of his employees had no idea where he was taking them. Thankfully the board caught it and dismissed him before disaster struck.
The new CEO, a brilliant, accountable, focused leader had to be “less than warm” in her approach to turning the company around. Many of her employees did not understand where she was coming from, and perceived her as cold, distant, and uncaring compared her to her predecessor. Like a courageous parent committed to accountability, I heard her say to her employees, in no uncertain terms, “Trust me. This is for the good of this company and the employees – in the long run.”
Now that the company has turned the corner through her leadership, it is obvious that many of these employees would not even be employed today under the former “popular” regime. Yet for sometime, the new CEO has been perceived by some of her direct reports and managers as “unapproachable,” “disconnected,” and “removed from her people.” They had no idea that, by saving the organization and the employees’ jobs along with it, she was actually very caring.
How do you become respected and liked and still hold others accountable? This is a question that every leader must grapple with. It is also a question that has application for every employee. Here are seven points to consider as you wrestle with this question:
- Being a leader is not for people who need to be liked or need to be popular. At times, you have to be willing to stand alone with the courage of your convictions.
- Even though you don’t need to be liked as a leader, if you aren’t liked by at least most of your people – you’ll have difficulty making impact in the long term.
- As an employee, some things are not as they appear. Few bosses come to work with a motive to mess up the place. While there certainly may be poor leadership at times, unless you are a psychopath, all behavior comes from a positive intent. Before judging, take time to discover the underlying motive of your boss’s behavior and be patient.
- Because leadership is a presence, not a position, everyone in an organization is a potential leader. You can be a leader today by deciding to be what you expect from others. If you want more compassion from others, start by being more compassionate to
- Leadership is ultimately about caring, but you can’t always count on it appearing as such. When you are fostering accountability by holding the line on a principle, you may come across as anything but compassionate. Accountable people accept this.
- You must be driven by a motive of caring even when you are holding others accountable – caring about people, caring about your work, and caring about the organization as a whole. While caring and accountability won’t always be in balance, you need to know when it’s out of balance and how to get it back.
- You don’t become liked by pleasing people and giving them what they want. That’s merely a fix that passes with the tides of popularity. You get to be liked by letting go of your need to be liked, serving people by being committed to giving them what they need, earning respect from living in alignment to your principles, and then by being humble and authentic.
Now that this CEO has begun to turn the company around, she’s concentrating on turning her relationship with her employees around. In order to accomplish what she did, she needed to be tough, and while her resolve remains firm, she can turn her attention to connecting with others and showing her caring side. She’s working at being vulnerable by communicating her intentions and exposing a little more of her humanness, both of which are vital to connecting with others. She’s reminding herself to be more kind and approachable, and lightening up a bit. As a result, people are actually starting to like her, and in the process, she is earning the trust and respect of her key people.