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Willingness to be disliked

There is performance upside everywhere. As a leader, your opportunity is to reset in each of these dimensions. You do it in every single conversation, meeting, and encounter. You look for and exploit every single opportunity to step up the pace, expect a higher quality outcome, and narrow the plane of attack. Then, you relentlessly follow up and prosecute at every turn. Yes, it is confrontational. That is pretty much what CEOs do all the time: confront people, issues and situations.
Frank Slootman1

lonely middle finger
Photo by Gwendal Cottin on Unsplash

To be liked is a very human need. It comes from a need to feel respected, loved or validated. However, some will find this need to be problematic in their career as managers. I certainly do.

In the context of managing people, people pleasing can lead you to make wrong decisions. Being a leader requires a hard cut from this need. Good leaders are willing to be disliked.

Building a company, team, product or department is difficult. It’s specially difficult when you have to change a working structure to be better. The role of a leader is to look at the reality of the company and to compare it to where it should be. This comparison is difficult and should happen very frequently.

The comparison is difficult because it requires constant confrontation. To be a good leader, you have to unapologetically demand the standard of execution. You have to put your ego aside (i.e. not think about the things people will think of you), and just think about the customers, company and team. That’s always first.

This confrontation is difficult.
It requires you to say things that are hard to hear.
It requires you to identify failures that are hard to admit.
It requires you to put pressure that is hard to handle.
This demands you to be willing to be disliked for the sake of the people you’re managing and the sake of the business.

Part of the job of a manager is coach people, help them grow and identify things to improve. If you’re not willing to be disliked, you can’t tell what people need to hear to improve. In order to help people, you need to have radical candor2 with them. This means challenging them directly in things that are uncomfortable.

You shouldn’t be an asshole. In parallel to challenging directly and giving powerful and constructive feedback, one should make sure to care personally for the people on the other side, given that it’s hard to receive feedback. But you can’t do things to get invited to the weekend barbecue. The job is to grow people and the company.

Unwillingness to be disliked is selfish. Because you’re seeking validation for you to feel good about yourself. You need to be willing to feel like shit if it means you’re helping someone else and helping the business.

There’s also another point: as a leader, your decisions will have pros and cons and likely will not have consensus. By design, people will not like some decisions you make. The natural reflex is to either strive towards consensus or to delay the decision. Neither might be optimal. You should push people towards ‘Constructive Dissatisfaction’.

It’s natural to want to feel liked. But that is secondary to saying the things that need to be said.