Leadership Hurts – When Being Respected Comes at the Price of not Being Liked


True leaders who inspire, motivate, coach and push people to achieve more than they would otherwise do are very seldom liked by everyone they lead, at any given moment in time.

Many people find it uncomfortable being stretched and challenged – even when the end result will likely be more rewarding for them in terms of career and remuneration outcomes. Their immediate reaction to any change or progress can often be to complain about and criticise their leader.

This can be awfully uncomfortable for any aspiring leader whose self-esteem is linked to the need to be liked by everyone.

Here’s what I have learned in my many leadership roles, including as managing director of Partners Life: ”Being liked by everyone all of the time, and being a leader who truly delivers outstanding results, are mutually exclusive”.

So if you aspire to be a true leader, do not expect to be liked by everyone – because you simply won’t be.

For example if people are threatened by you, wish to make themselves look good at your expense, find change uncomfortable or don’t want to be measured and/or managed, then no matter what you do, they will never like you.

You do not need to be liked but you do need to be trusted and respected by the people who count.

You do not need to be liked but you do need to be trusted and respected by the people who count.

To gain the respect of your team, even those who don’t like you, one of the worst things a leader can do is to play favourites with those people who make them feel good about themselves.

As a leader, you will be judged on how well your entire team performs. Surrounding yourself with, and listening to the opinions of only those people who will do just what you say, or say what you want to hear, means you will never be exposed to anyone else’s good ideas – and someone else will always have ideas that you don’t.

Image Credit: Women In Tech

Those people who are really good at their jobs, who challenge the status quote, or who have significant leadership potential themselves, will in all likelihood never fit into such a clique – meaning you as a leader miss out on getting the outcomes that their talents would deliver and the business may lose those people all together.

So while those members of your clique or gang are providing you with the adulation you crave, everyone else will lose respect for you – potentially including people who may hold your own next career step in their hands.

A great leader is comfortable enough in their own skin to surround themselves with people who have different views than them and with people who are better than they are in different ways.

Managing people who confront and challenge you is much harder than managing people who will simply follow you, but the end results will be much greater. You don’t need to be revered by your team – in fact, instead, it demonstrates your respect and admiration for each member of your team and it will help you get the best out of them – that is true leadership.

Leadership can hurt but, as the saying goes, no pain, no gain.

Naomi Ballantyne, founder and managing director, Partners Life.

You can read more of Naomi’s columns here.