In the competitive world of business, leadership requires special people who are able to balance the goals of the firm, the needs of their team, and the needs of their own ego. Leaders who create dynamic teams, who have a record of achievement and sustained superior performance in a variety of situations. Not managers of process, of programs, of performance matrix, or even of people. In short, those special few who truly lead people.
Identifying these special few is not an easy thing to do, and it is certainly not an easy thing to find or discern, either in a resume or from interviews. However, over the years we have heard a virtual cornucopia of screening questions from our clients regarding this very issue, but only one that was worth sharing. While to the casual observer it might be a question of semantics, for many it has become the key tool in identifying those special leaders. Simply put, what is more important to a leader – to be liked or to be respected? Asking this simple, “must choose one” question tells one a great deal about the person and their real leadership ability.
Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln and his administration, is one of the finest studies of this issue and serves as a great case study. Clearly Lincoln’s “team” neither liked nor respected him as a person, as a politician, and certainly not as a leader. Lincoln never set out to win their approval or friendship. What he did do was respect their individual talents and experiences, provided them the freedom to do their jobs, and above all he lead them. As a leader, Lincoln set clear goals, made tough decisions, shared his vision, stuck to his convictions, never wavered, and held people accountable. Over time and through his actions Lincoln gradually won the respect, loyalty, and ultimately sincere affection of his Team of Rivals, a divided nation, and arguably a world.
Regardless of what Lincoln the person might have wanted, Lincoln the Leader knew that above all else he had to earn the respect of his team first. He never set out to be liked. He set out to lead. There in lies the heart of the question – Leaders realize they must earn the respect of their team first – all else stems from the respect of the team, to include being liked.