Though it is human nature to want to be liked, Clinical and Counselling Psychologist Dr Jenny Ellison said the urge to curry favour was a fragile foundation on which to base leadership.
“If you want to be a successful leader, wanting to be liked will not help your effectiveness,” she said.
In seeking validation from others, Dr Ellison said leaders ran the risk of avoiding decisive action.
“A leader who is worried about not being liked won’t be able to open up about controversial decisions and support people with different opinions because they will be afraid to create conflict,” she said.
“They may rather choose to avoid the ‘elephant in the room’, which would leave the team in conflict and unproductive.
“It makes it difficult for the leader to have honest conversations, so they would typically avoid the kind of discussions that effective leaders have.
“These difficult and controversial conversations help individuals become productive and make the whole team more effective.”
While the lines can sometimes be blurred between the two, Dr Ellison said working towards gaining respect rather than admiration was often the best way forward for leaders.
Referencing the work of American author and speaker John C. Maxwell, Dr Ellison said while a leadership position typically brought with it a degree of power, it was building a rapport with people through leading
by example that created respect.
“This is probably the more holistic way of describing how to become an effective leader,” she said.
“Wanting to be respected is a more productive way of achieving goals.”
Dr Ellison said wanting to be liked could be beneficial to working relationships, but if the reason for wanting to be liked was a fragile ego or a narcissistic personality then it wouldn't benefit leadership.
“If you wanted to be liked or respected to build trust and develop others, it could be very beneficial,” she said.
“You would put a lot more effort into listening carefully to what others say and you would hone your empathy.”
Dr Ellison said it was inevitable you might not be liked in a leadership role, but it could have nothing to do with you.
“It may not be you, it may just be the role,” she said.
“It may also be projection from people, and some people are very critical of everything and everyone.”
With this in mind, Dr Ellison said effective leadership started with the individual, with the key being to trust in yourself, your integrity and your goals within the leadership role.
“You would have to really hold that in order to have that ideal balance,” she said. “I think you also have to be quite open to other people, want to hear what every person has to say and want to include them –
that’s the balance.”
Dr Ellison said facing the challenges of the workplace with a calm demeanour was important, as it allowed leaders to remain centred and connected, rather than reactive.
“When you are able to do that, you can make a lot more sense of decisions," she said. "You’re then operating from the cortex – the wise part of the brain – as opposed to the amygdala – the primitive, reactive part of the brain.
“As a result, you’re able to think more clearly and see a wider perspective.
“The way to achieve this is to invest more time in reflection, meditation and self-care. This allows leaders to become more reflective and energised – putting the oxygen mask on ourselves first in order to help others.
“We are so out of focus in today’s world and we hold onto a lot of temporary, changing things, so being settled and ‘watering the roots to get the fruits’ is really a good basis for leadership.”