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Barry Posner

Barry Posner

Barry Posner is Dean of the Leavey School of Business and Professor of Leadership at Santa Clara University.

Utter Nonsense

Baloney. Tell me about a political system or nation state where the people are flourishing as a result of being under a leader that they fear. People who are afraid of their leaders don't produce at their best; and while short-term gains can sometimes be made under these circumstances, the long-term consequences are not "continuous improvement."

My colleague Jim Kouzes and I wrote in A Leader's Legacy that "leaders should want to be like." Indeed, we don't need to read mountains of studies on emotional intelligence to understand this truth: We will work harder and more effectively for people we like. And we will like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel.

Still, not a week goes by that we don't hear someone in an executive role say something to this effect: "I don't care if people like me. I just want them to respect me." Get real!

That statement is utter nonsense, and contrary to everything we know about effective leadership. Think about it for a moment. Is this a binary choice? Are we restricted to either liking or respecting someone? Can't we have both? Can't we both like and respect a person?

When we talk to people about the leaders they admire -- the ones they'd stay up late for, the ones they'd bust their butts for, the ones they'd die for -- we never, ever hear anyone tell us, "Well I hated that guy, but I'd follow him to the ends of the earth!" Or, "She was a real jerk, but I sure was inspired to do my best for her." The leaders people want to follow are the ones for whom they have genuine affection. Love is definitely not too strong a word to use for how the best leaders feel about their constituents and how their constituents feel about these leaders.

Being liked also makes your job as a leader a whole lot easier. You'll have an easier time getting people to trust you. You'll have an easier time getting people to listen to you. You'll have an easier time getting people to put in extra effort. You'll have an easier time getting people to accept the bad news. You'll have an easier time getting people to work together. You'll have an easier time making money. And, you'll also be a much healthier person.

So, when someone says "I don't care if people don't like me," or "I want people to fear me," can they really be serious? We don't think so. How can they mean it when the evidence is so clear and compelling that being liked produces better results?

And, who are the "people" they are talking about, anyway? Can they really mean that they don't care if their spouses don't like them, or their kids fear them, or their business partners fear them, or their employees don't like them, or their friends (would they have any?) don't like them?

If you have someone in a leadership role working for you who truly doesn't care if other people don't like him or her, then fire that person. That individual may not like you, but everyone else will.

By Barry Posner

 |  August 18, 2009; 12:09 PM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The Political Disciplinarian | Next: Credibility, Not Threats


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The TEA PARTY REVOLT, THE BEAR REVOLT,and an absolute resolve and refusal to buy a GM ever for being robbed by the kooks dujour, is pretty telling that the current leaders are alone.

How many cars can a broke Federal Government buy for themselves????

Posted by: dottydo | August 18, 2009 6:47 PM
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That may be true of some people but not all people. There are those who see kindness as a weakness and they will act to further their own agendas rather than promote what the country needs unless they feel they are facing a stronger force on the other side.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Obama seems hesitant to pick up a stick and threaten those who don't agree with him. As I recall, Lyndon Johnson did that and some of the failures of his "War on Poverty" may have been due to the techniques he used getting legislation passed.
Those who oppose national health care need to be heard and their concerns need to be dealt with. Those who sing a mantra against "big government" worry about socialism being unamerican and promote a chaotic and hostile environment designed to perpetuate an already moribund status quo need to be confronted by the rest of us and the idea of a fund set up to back candidates who will run against these demigogues is the best idea I have heard in a long time. I would further suggest that advertisers whose money support the Rush Limbaughs of this world might also cut and run if their bottom lines were threatened.

Posted by: aeschonfeld | August 18, 2009 1:09 PM
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