Being Liked vs. Being Respected

It’s nice to be liked.  Early in life, it’s the best social currency for collaborating with others.  If people don’t like you, they won’t invite you to their birthday parties.

As you progress and enter the productive world being liked is still nice, but it fades further into the background as the primary metric for who will collaborate with you.  It gets overshadowed in importance by being respected.

I’ve worked with people everyone loved but had little respect for and people everyone respected but didn’t like.  Everyone would rather have a beer with the former, but everyone would rather work with the latter.

People you work with do not need to like you.

In fact, if you feel great about how they all love you it may be a good time to think critically about how they see you.  The most liked people aren’t often the most respected.  If you’re worried about whether they like you, you may be failing to ensure you’ve earned their respect.  If you stress about whether they make fun of you behind your back, you’ve got the wrong focus.

People you work with need to respect you.

Ask yourself if they do.  Do they want you to have ownership over projects?  Do they trust you implicitly?  Would they speak highly of your work, even if they made fun of your personality?  If so, they probably respect you.

I don’t mean to imply it’s a complete trade-off.  You can be liked and respected, which is an amazing combo.  The challenge is the more you are liked, the better it feels in the short term and the more incentive there is to protect it.  When you start worrying about protecting your reputation as “fun” or “nice” you can stray from what you actually do best and slip in the respect department.

The most effective teammates and certainly the most effective leaders are liked and respected.  I would argue, however, that one of the primary reasons they are liked is because of how respectable they are.  The likeability can grow on people.  But if you lead with being liked it doesn’t tend to morph into respect over time.

Respect must be earned through a reputation of value creation.  It doesn’t come with titles or business cards or corner offices or degrees or years of experience.  If they don’t respect you now, they’ll respect you less when you get the promotion.  To them, you’re the same person but in even further over your head.

Focus on value creation and stay above petty stuff and popularity contests.  Be kind to everyone, deliver above and beyond expectations.  You’ll get the respect anchored down.  Then you can work on the likeability part.

*Oh, and being disliked is not the same as being respected.  Don’t assume you are respected just because everyone is afraid of you or thinks you’re an a**hole.  Yes, people thought Steve Jobs was an a**hole, but the causality doesn’t run that way.  Most a**holes are not value-creating highly respected leaders.  Never take pride in being disliked by those you work with.