Like vs. Respect — what do you seek?

What is more important to you, to be liked or to be respected?

Humans, like to be liked and yet not all the decisions we make are popular with everyone? They simply cannot be. So, by default, some people who do not like our thinking may not like us very much either. Being a leader is a tough gig! We have an obligation to confront the status quo, situations, problems and, sometimes people, every day. Part of our development as a leader is to know that it’s not realistic to please everyone.

The dictionary definitions of both these words are interesting:

To like is to find a person agreeable, enjoyable, or satisfactory.

To respect is to hold feelings of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Likable leaders build strong relationships with others who willingly contribute and cooperate, which is great. However, this can make difficult decision making that may impact on those relationships more delicate to navigate. Being liked is positive and it brings a health warning about how we run our businesses.

Respected leaders can be assured that even when they make a call others are not on board with, they will still work with you towards the accomplishment of your aim; because there will be some sense of the greater good being at play and a tacit understanding that the decisions being made are not personal.

So, how do we as leaders go about earning the respect of our people? I think some of the following ideas are worth exploring:

1. Practice what you preach

Say what you’ll do and do what you say. Being consistent is an appreciated trait. Stand out as a role model for your people by demonstrating behaviours in line with company values. Remember too that leaders are not ‘above the law.’

2. Make confident decisions

Set a clear and well communicated direction. Make certain that it is understood by everyone and that each person knows how they are able to contribute to that in a valuable way. Act quickly and decisively, especially when the chips are down. Demonstrate confidence in your choices in order that people feel they have resolution to situations that unsteady the ship. Remember that you also have an obligation to justify the decisions you make and to articulate how these will impact others. Including people in decision-making processes is often a great way to achieve buy-in.

3. Be honest and transparent

Transparency in leadership leads to trust and respect. Your team members expect you to be transparent, fair and empathetic of their needs. They expect openness from you and to be kept fully in the loop about any changes that are being made and how these will affect them. They also expect you to share the motivations behind your decisions. Remember early and clear communication brings people with you.

4. Own praise and criticism

By which I mean — admit your own mistakes publicly (be vulnerable), and for your team praise in public, criticise and correct in private. Empower and inspire your people to improve, nurture team strengths and to bring out the best in people. Airing the mistakes and misjudgements of others on the front line will destroy their confidence and damage the relationships you have worked so hard to build. Airing your own will build respect for your honesty (provided you are able to find a resolution to any mistakes).

Most importantly, remember that respect is earned over time, and earning it takes a great deal of work.

Tania Watson is the founder of Creative Coaching and an executive coach, organisational consultant and leadership specialist. Creative Coaching is a successful company dedicated to the development of senior leaders in organisations through one to one coaching, intact team development and group facilitation. If you or someone from your organisation would like to have a no obligation conversation about how Creative Coaching may be able to help, please email Tania directly at

Executive Coach | Organisational Development Consultant | Leadership Specialist | Champion of People and Their Potential. Follow me for #leadership tips.

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