Be The Un-Likeable Leader

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What can you learn about Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, for building a successful career?  If you want to be an effective leader, stop making people like you.  Some managers are so wrapped up in making decisions that make everybody happy that they sacrifice one of the most important goals of leadership—the ability to be forthright.  Leaders can lose respect and effectiveness by making decisions on what will make people like them.

Not every decision can make everyone happy.  Insecure leaders have an overwhelming need to have everyone nodding their heads “yes.”  This flaw reveals an underlying need for acceptance and approval.  In that frame of mind, a leader is at the mercy of the lone holdout that is difficult to please or is downright negative.  This leader will spend so much time and effort trying to win over the one holdout that she loses sight of the greater good--leading the company forward.

As Costolo puts it in the article, leaders have to care deeply about the company, but can’t make decisions based on everyone liking the outcome of their decisions.  Each leadership opportunity is a step along your career path.  Happy employees are a positive thing, and contribute to the growth and vitality of the company.  Unfortunately, what makes some employees happy is having as little responsibility and accountability as possible, and the freedom to do whatever they want without regard to company policy.  Turning your head the other way is one way leaders make employees happy, but it undermines leadership and erodes respect.

Do you want to be the most popular boss in the company?  Are you uncomfortable with conflict or objections?  Are you always the peacemaker, or do you encourage opposition so you can see both sides of a situation?  There is an old saying, “If two of us always agree, one of us is unnecessary.”  Groupthink, or everyone following the rules or going along with one opinion even though there are serious objections, is the killer of innovation. 

Or are you the kind of person who is willing to take an unpopular but well-thought out stance when you know it’s the best for the company and work team?  People may not like your decision, but they will admire your confidence and ability to state your case, take the criticism and follow a decision through to the conclusion.  The ability to act without needing approval is what makes major organizational change possible.

Everyone should have accomplishment statements on his resume.  Each one comes with a story of the journey to the successful end.  Don’t just share the triumphs.  Not everyone is successful all the time.  Character flaws or mistakes in judgment happen to everyone.  The most successful and innovative leaders failed more than once, but were not afraid to take a risk.  Share the opposition and how you were able to win over the objections to bring about a positive result. That story will be even more compelling and speak more about your leadership ability than 10 “happy employee” stories could ever do.


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