Likeability and Being Liked: The Difference

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If you manage people, they will not always like you. No matter how hard you try.


Managers direct their teams’ work, control how they do tasks, oversee each employee’s pay and advancement, and set the team, department, or corporate culture.

And people don’t like to feel that someone controls their activities and forward motions. At any given moment, one or more employees will prefer something other than what their managers direct or decide.

Managers can’t lead if they fret that employees won’t like their decisions. Leadership means making difficult choices and giving correction where needed. If you don’t make challenging choices and confront problems, the team will suffer—and you won’t win fans in the process.

So should bosses just give in to jerkitude?

Nope. Employees may not like their bosses at all times, but they should find them likeable. Employees shouldn’t feel a manager acts irrationally or out of spite.

How does a manager aim for likeability without worrying about whether employees like them?

  • Make the hard decisions. Fire the slacker. Discipline the ne’er-do-well. Cut expenses—even if it means dropping popular items and activities. Everyone knows the bad eggs. Everyone respects that sometimes costs must drop for the greater good.

  • Communicate rationales. When you make any decision—and perhaps especially when you’ve made the hard ones—explain the reason behind it. People better adjust to changes and determinations when they understand why they’ve happened.

  • Give clear direction. Don’t assume people know what you want. Ensure everyone understands her role in a given task, when you want something done, what resources she has to complete it, who she can go to with questions, and how you’d like something done.

  • Set defined expectations. Don’t assume people know how you measure their success. Tell each direct report what activity you expect and what outcomes you’d like to see globally and on a project-by-project basis.

  • Behave with integrity. Do what you say you’ll do—and always do your best to do the right thing. If your team sees you trying to do good work in the right way, it will follow your lead.

  • Support your team. Ensure your team has the resources and tools it needs to be successful. While encouraging each person forward, champion his needs and his work within your organization. Be each employee’s mentor, leader, and advocate.

Which of your managers have you most admired? Why?