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Would You Rather Be Liked or Respected as a Leader?

Would you rather be liked or respected in your role as a leader? Is one ‘better’ than the other?

It’s an age-old question that comes up all the time in both personal and professional circles, and that’s often asked in job interviews to gauge an aspiring manager’s thoughts on the topic. And trying to answer it ‘right’ can feel… messy. 😅

Of course it’s natural to want to be liked, whether among friends, professional peers, students, or any other group! And yet, being liked and being respected are often confused as being one and the same. 

For leaders, earning the respect of your colleagues and the people you manage is essential to establish a healthy and productive work environment where accountability and dedication are part of the culture. And! It’s probably also true that those same people might like you more when you provide them with what they need to be successful, especially if it’s in a friendly and supportive way. 

In other words, both are clearly important to the health of any workplace and team dynamic. So which do you choose?

Before we delve deeper into this topic, let’s start with a short exercise.

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Opening exercise

Sit back and take a minute to consider your answers to these questions:

  • As a leader, if you had to choose, would you rather be liked or respected?
  • How deeply do you value popularity in the workplace?
  • How deeply do you value the respect of your colleagues?
  • How do these two qualities complement and counteract one another on a daily basis in your professional (or personal) life?

Take as much time as you need and continue reading whenever you’re ready.

So… which did you choose?

When it comes to being liked vs. being respected, which did you find yourself gravitating toward most? What were the main factors that went into that decision?

What if the answer doesn’t have to be completely black or white?

Considering both sides

Most of us would probably have a hard time recalling a time we liked someone we didn’t also respect. However, if we’re always focused exclusively on being liked, it won’t necessarily make us truly effective leaders. 

Embracing humor, embodying empathy, working as part of a team, and being flexible are all qualities that might draw people to like us. But as leaders, there are times we inevitably need to make decisions that aren’t “popular” in order to elevate performance, motivate team members, or otherwise serve the good of an organization.

On the flipside, issuing edicts, making threats, and instilling fear into others may benefit the bottom line in the short term (and give the impression of commanding respect) but are most certainly not leadership qualities that will make us more likable. Eliciting fear, while often misconstrued as ‘effective,’ is also sure to make us highly unlikable.

So what are we as leaders to do?

Instead of asking whether you would rather be liked or respected, consider the benefits of striking a balance.

Instead of making unpopular decisions and believing your only option is to live with the fallout, what if you communicated the reasons behind why these decisions are being made in the first place? This goes a long way toward not only securing buy-in from the team, but toward fostering respect as well. 

Leaders who make tough decisions and who can clearly explain the thinking behind them are often able to strike a balance between being liked and respected. And while it may seem counterintuitive, research shows that a willingness to be vulnerable and have open, honest conversations with your team paves the way toward earning their respect and becoming a more inspiring leader. To quote Dr. Brené Brown from her podcast, Dare to Lead, “our ability to be daring leaders will never be greater than our capacity for vulnerability. Once we start to build vulnerability skills, we can start to develop the other skill sets.”

So, if you were to ask me, “Would you rather be liked or respected?” my response would always be, “Are those options mutually exclusive? No? Then I choose both!”

Think about how others react and respond to your leadership style and decisions. How are you showing up every day and leading with intention? When you do, “respect” and “like” are always sure to follow.

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