Do Leaders Need to Be Liked?

By Whit Mitchell

It’s a question that many leaders have considered: “Do I need to be liked by my employees?” 

The short answer is no, you don’t. People come to work every day, and don’t have to befriend the people they are working with, but there is one component that must be present—that is respect. 

If there is respect in the workplace, employees will work toward a common goal. You don’t need to like your boss to do a good job and value his guidance, but chances are that you won’t do either of these things if there isn’t mutual respect. The interesting thing is that quite often respect does turn into a genuine regard for another person.

There is a difference between being liked, and being disliked, which leads to a lack of respect. Leaders who are not respected foster a culture of fear, disharmony, disloyalty and lack of engagement. 

I once worked with a leader who drove fear into his team and environment. When I was brought in to help, team members were actively trying to transfer out of his department. They were complaining to this leader’s boss, yet telling the leader himself that all was well for fear of retribution. We did a 360-feedback survey so that the leader could receive honest feedback, but before the survey went out he told his direct reports that they had better give him good scores! Of course he received only good marks, which only reinforced his bad behavior.

The impact of bad behavior is simple: Without respect, you will lose quality employees, and you won’t be able to attract and recruit new people. Poor employee relations skills cost companies money in disengagement, not to mention new hiring and onboarding.

On the opposite side of the coin, the desire to be liked can cause a leader to make poor decisions. This can often happen when a team member is promoted to lead the team he or she was once a part of. If these new managers still want to be friends with the team and liked by their coworkers, this can lead to charges of favoritism, lack of clarity in responsibilities, and poor results.

If leaders simply focus on creating a culture of respect, then neither of these extremes will occur. Start leading by example and creating an environment of trust, fairness, commitment, accountability, and openness. If you make decisions with these values in mind, and expect the same from your team, you can achieve results through people.