Leaders: Would You Rather be Liked or Respected?

Liked or Respected

Here is a question for the ages: Would you rather be liked or respected?

I never really understood that question. And who says these two traits are mutually exclusive?

I want to be both liked and respected. And I believe both are possible.

Being Likable and Respected

Great communicators and leaders have, or must develop what author Tim Sanders calls the likeability factor. Their personality and the chemistry they create between themselves, their teams, their clients, their partners, and all their constituents can be the secret to their success in being heard, embraced, and followed with enthusiasm and devotion.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a client and he said this:

“I am not trying to win a popularity contest. Being liked is not that important to me – I just need to get the job done for my clients.”

  • Again, I ask – are these things mutually exclusive?
  • Why is it so hard for us to embrace this fact?
  • After all, life is in some ways a series of popularity contests.

The Source of Your Success

The choices other people make about us are often direct factors in determining our success, on many, though not all, levels. And decades of research prove that people choose who they like.

They vote for them, they buy from them, they marry them, and they spend precious time with them.

Likeability is important. Likeability may well be the deciding factor in every situation you’ll ever enter.

So when we are attempting to build rapport, lead teams, build trust, and build overall likability, consider these few simple tips from Bert Decker’s book You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard:

  • Be real and authentic. No one likes a phony. Let your vulnerabilities show. People relate to other people.
  • Be friendly. This sounds so simple, yet many people have trouble with this for several reasons: insecurities, fears, defense mechanisms, lack of trust, etc. So, just go for it. Treat others openly and see the best in them. Take the plunge and be nice. Smile sincerely and warmly – that is the magic facial expression.
  • Be respectful of others. Be well-intentioned, generous and sincere with your compliments. Be empathetic to other’s feelings, situations, and challenges. Most of the time, a person is thinking about their situation – not ours – so when we show the capacity to think of them first – it is appreciated.
  • Stay centered and quietly confident. It takes such a load off when the person we are with is not needy – it puts us at ease, doesn’t it? Don’t we love being around folks who are comfortable in their own skin? And quiet confidence is just plain attractive.
  • Be genuinely interested in others. Not at the veneer level – take a deep, thoughtful interest in them, their thoughts, dreams, ideas, and challenges.  This is authentic, real, and frankly, often a rarity in the fast-paced world of business.

So, the next time someone says this:

“I don’t have to be liked to be successful. I just need to be respected and deliver the goods,”

remember that it is rare for someone to respect another that they don’t like.

Getting Results Gets Respect

By doing these simple steps toward likability, it will bring out the best in us and others. Sales will go up. Teamwork improves. Change is smoother and well-supported by others.

The energy is contagious. We will go the extra mile for our leaders and vice-versa.

We want the person to succeed because we like them so much, and vice-versa.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest), how high do you approve of your boss? What matters to you more- being respected OR being liked by your team? Do you take time out of your day to really meet with your staff and get to know them individually? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Kristin Kaufman is founder of Alignment, Inc.™
She helps clients find alignment within themselves and their organizations

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Image Source:  tommyland

4 responses to “Leaders: Would You Rather be Liked or Respected?

  1. No, they’re not mutually exclusive, but when you have to choose — as a leader — ALWAYS choose respect. I’m not sure there was ever a formal study done, but based on the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, when officers were “fragged” in Vietnam (ie, killed by their own troops), every incident I ever heard or knew about was not hated officers being targeted, but incompetent officers — those whom the troops were afraid would get them killed. ALWAYS be respected.


    • Thanks, Scott, for your perspective. Agree with you 100% that respect is a non-negotiable in leadership.


  2. If a leader is too concerned about being liked, they often make critical errors in judgement whether it’s about the business or personnel. However, a leader who exhibits some transparency, gives their people a sense of feeling protected and takes a sincere interest in them, typically produces more loyalty and are well liked and respected.


    • Cheryl, I love your observation about ‘transparency’, as I believe being transparent and vulnerable with your team can be where true power is revealed. AND – to your point, folks relate to this and you are ‘liked’ AND ‘respected’ – because you put your authentic self out there as a leader. Thank you for commenting!


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