All decent leaders wrestle -- at least a little -- with the notion of wanting to be both respected and liked. It's human nature. Great leaders, however, know that execution, getting the job done, and done well, is vastly more important than popularity.

The often-cited example these days is Steve Jobs, the late, visionary founder at Apple, who had a hard exterior but drove his company to be one of the most admired innovators in the world. He wanted to be respected -- and he was. Quite frankly, he cared little about being liked and, by many, he wasn't. 

Of course, it helps to be liked, as the traits of popularity --politeness, respectfulness, listening skills, to name a few -- boost the chances of a leader succeeding. And being unlikeable or a jerk by design doesn't add value. With apologies to baseball great Leo Durocher, who was as nasty on the field as they come, nice guys don't necessarily finish last.

But being likable, by itself, is never enough. Too much can backfire. An emphasis on playing to the audience can result in leaders evading problems or procrastinating about tough decisions.

To be a truly effective and respected leader, there should not be a big gap between what you say and what you do.

Truth-telling is a much more critical --in fact, it's mandatory, I believe -- than telling people what they want to hear, which leads eventually to a loss of trust. 

Once leaders lose trust or their honesty is questioned, they often become insecure and heavy-handed, using fear tactics that usually fail in the long-term as well as destroys their legacy. 

 Perhaps nowhere is the desire to be liked more evident that in politics, where leaders routinely compromise principles, waffle through interviews, and deliver almost nothing but people-pleasing platitudes in speeches and press releases. Is it any wonder that politicians almost everywhere get low scores from the public for trust?

Younger leaders, inexperienced and, perhaps, unsure of themselves, also often fall prey to becoming pleasers, so much so they lose influence. 

A key component to building respect is integrity. If a leader lacks it, they will never garner respect.

Secondly, people need to feel empowered. When leaders show their subordinates respect, they empower them, and that trust and respect is reflected back to the leaders -- a virtuous circle. 

Thirdly, constant communication is everything. Leaders need to institute an open door policy. Communicate lavishly--good news and bad. Stay in touch with people. That will build trust and trust builds respect. Unfortunately, so many young managers put the emphasis on demanding and not giving and losing a lot of good will and trust along the way. Good will is not the same as popularity. Good will is what trust gives you. It allows you to be forgiven for your mistakes not because people like you but because they respect you and a​ccept​ that you are human, because you have demonstrated that you are by the way you treat them.

But remember that a leader's job is to deliver results by defining the goal, making sure the team is onboard, removing obstacles, providing resources, and later giving credit to whom credit is due. 

The most essential element of earning respect as a leader, however, may be winning. People like working for people who are coaching a winning team, doing the right thing, on time, and on budget. A leader who does all that always will be respected and -- most probably -- liked a lot.

Published on: Oct 27, 2017