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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Is it Better to Be Liked or Respected as a Leader? - "The Power of Engagement"

Some leaders ponder the notion "is it better to be liked or respected by my subordinates and peers".

In my experience, I have too often only seen the following two traditional approaches to leadership: 

Those who seek respect: Some leaders subscribe to the view that they would rather be respected than liked. They tend to keep a professional and emotional distance between themselves and their peers and subordinates. They typically drive for business results and are very demanding, keeping high standards and expect the same of their peers and subordinates. The perceived positive aspects of this approach to leadership is the leader is viewed as hard-driving, focused first and foremost on  delivering strong business results and typically seen as surrounding themselves with like-minded staff. The negative aspects, however, associated with this puritanical approach to leadership are that these leaders are often viewed as traditional, autocratic, non-dynamic, lacking creativity in their approach  and often risk alienating high quality staff as a result.  (Note:  Please watch for more on this topic in an upcoming blog on the shift in the economy from the "information age" to the "conceptual age" and what that means for talent.)

Those who want to be liked: Some leaders seek validation through developing positive connections with their peers and subordinates. These leaders may be viewed as having a motherhood and "apple pie" approach to their professional relations, being too forgiving or soft and reluctant to compromise relationships for results. Some perceived advantages to this approach to leadership are that peers and subordinates can feel a deep and genuine bond with the leader resulting in the leader creating a followership who will go to great lengths to support them. The downside of this style of leadership is that some may see these leaders as too soft and placing too much value on personal relationships versus driving business results.

Instead of being a slave to either of these two approaches, I recommend a third approach that seeks to achieve a balance between being respected and being liked, but which also ultimately leads to higher organizational profitability.

Seek to achieve a high level of employee engagement: In this third approach to leadership, leaders attempt to achieve an appropriate balance between focussing on driving business results while equally valuing strong professional relations with peers and subordinates. This approach to leadership, when effectively mastered, enables the leader to develop strong professional and personal relationships with peers and staff while still driving significant business results through their peers and subordinates. One of the key drivers of success to this approach is the leader's ability to harness the discretionary efforts of their peers and subordinates. Discretionary effort is defined as the effort staff choose to deploy over and above what they would normally expend under normal job conditions. This is also referred to as "employee engagement".  A number of studies have found that there is a direct link between high levels of employee engagement and employee retention, greater job satisfaction and the achievement of greater business results, which all lead to higher organizational profitability.

Achieving a high level of employee engagement should be an approach that leaders should strive to achieve.  If genuinely subscribed to, it will not only drive greater organizational profitability through higher employee retention, reduced absenteeism and greater employee discretionary efforts, but will also lead to a better work environment for all.

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