Effective Leadership Skills: Unlearn the Need To Be Liked

If there is one thing that I have seen handcuff more executives than anything else, it is the need to be liked (NTBL). 

It’s nice to be liked. Most of us want friends and family who like us so that we can share our time together, be comfortable, able to let our hair down. That is a good thing! Being around people who you know don’t like you is not enjoyable. Your guard is up, you are wary, and you can’t relax. (Whether or not they truly do not like you or you just assume that they don’t is another matter.)

Those of you who own a dog, know the feeling of being liked.

The problem arises when you need everyone to like you; when your need to please becomes irrational and causes you to take actions that are detrimental to yourself or your company in order to please someone else; when short term pleasantries are more important that productive relationships. If you can recall a time or two in high school when you did something really dumb because you wanted to impress that cool kid, you know the feeling. (I got kicked out of high school for a few days because of this, but that’s another story…) Remember the kid who was the class clown? He or she had a bad case of NTBL.

Some folks have this affliction because of what Mommy and Daddy did to them and that is too bad, but I’m a coach not a psychotherapist so I don’t go there. I only work on how we can create a better future.

If you have NTBL, you are aware of it even if you haven’t publicly admitted it. You’ve held back with peers, avoiding tough issues rather than being assertive. You haven’t shared all of the constructive criticism you should have so that you would not offend them. You’ve accepted lots of meetings that you really didn’t need to be in.

Here’s the deal… It’s O.K. if some people don’t like you. In fact, as a leader, if don’t have some, you have a severe case of NTBL.

There is one person that you really need to have like you in order to reduce your NTBL and that is you! The affirmation you need should come from yourself, not others. 

The process to reduce NTBL requires only two things. (Simple but hard.) First, you need to define what success is—both long term and short term. Then you need to shoot for those objectives and pretty much ignore feedback or condemnation from those who you don’t need to listen to. Create a daily review process for yourself and focus on what you are doing well. Without a guidepost, a measure of success that you believe in, you will always be dependent upon the opinions of others.

Another thing that will help is to find a few people who are supportive but will tell you the truth. This is not about putting your head the sand; you need to continue to improve. Create a structured way to get feedback from them.

Develop your internal measures of success and free yourself from the need for others to define who you should be and what you should do. If Mommy or Daddy really did a number on you, get some help. No one should be haunted by the need for approval from ghosts of the past.

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