Recently, I was out for dinner and drinks with an old friend when the conversation turned to our work. My friend told me that one of his co-workers had recently revealed to him that he was well-respected but not necessarily well-liked by his employees. This sounded like bad news to me, as I know how passionate my friend is about his work. However, as he elaborated, I realized he wore this revelation as a badge of honor; it honestly made me a bit sad.
I have never understood why we tend to view “like” and “respect” as an either/or proposition. It’s very Machiavellian. Do people see these qualities as diametrically opposed? Or maybe to be both seems like an oxymoron – like jumbo shrimp or honest thief. Call me greedy, but when I work with a team of people, I want to be both liked AND respected.
Research shows that employees typically leave a company because of their manager, not because of the company itself – regardless of pay or benefits or retention programs. Truth is, good management is the key to having satisfied employees and building successful teams.
If organizations recognize the important role that managers have in employee satisfaction and retention, how can it be that so many managers believe that “respect” is somehow inherently more important than “like”? This approach may have worked in the past but with work environments and the workforce itself being so much more fluid, it’s not a strategy for long-term success in the 21st century.
Business, although not a life or death situation, is in some ways like a war zone. Soldiers regularly say that in the heat of battle, it’s the mutual camaraderie and respect that gets them through. A soldier’s reason for being a soldier could be any number of things, but in combat, he fights for the people who are fighting by his side. We are much more willing to put in the extra effort, the extra time, the extra energy when we are working with people that we like AND respect.
Many years ago, I was leading a team that was working on a new systems launch that needed to be done over the course of a weekend. The company needed to be “business as usual” for our clients on Friday afternoon and we needed to be ready for “business as usual” again on Monday morning. This team committed to working together on-site through the weekend to make it happen. We hit glitches. We re-designed programs. We tested. And ultimately, we implemented and were ready for Monday morning. It was a very long weekend. Why did they do it? Sure, I hope that they believed in what the company initiatives were, and I hope that they respected me as the leader. But I know in my heart that when the challenges hit at 2 am on a Sunday morning, that the team came together because we liked each other and we wanted to share in our mutual success. They weren’t doing it just because they respected me.
Motivation doesn’t come solely from respect. It’s much more than that. True leadership requires more than your team knowing that you are the smartest person in the room or that you have the most experience. Leadership means garnering respect by caring about what motivates your people as individuals and as part of the team. And caring about the individual can make any manager more likeable.