To be liked or respected?

About a week ago I presented several sessions at the annual Camp West conference.  (Camp West focuses on the summer and day camp market for Western US.).  At the end of one of my sessions, a guy approached me with a question.  He’s a new Camp Director and was struggling with the following question:  “How can I get my staff to like me?”

I immediately had a flash-back to a similar situation with one of my favorite bosses while I was at Nortel.  Wayne Higgins had a wise way of leading and teaching.  He once posed the question to me “As a manager, do you want to be liked or respected?  You can’t have both.”

This is a really good question to think about.

Sometimes to be liked, wrong decisions get made.  Focusing on what others think about you, you’re guided by the need to build transactional and transient positive feelings.  Not always does this translate into a long-term relationship.  Things are said (or not) in order to preserve or build a false sense of loyalty, friendship, or simply not to ‘rock the boat’.  Being liked is an outcome—an end.

To be respected means, I’ve found, speaking the truth.  And yes, you have to do so in a way that is straightforward and honest—the essence of respect!  It doesn’t mean you have to be blunt; rather that you speak as you would like to hear the same message as you were on the receiving end.  Respect, while harder to earn and maintain, usually will supersede likability in the long term.  Being respected means having to work on the relationship every day.  It is not an end.

And the neatest thing can occur when you go for respect, you can be liked!  However, I’ve found that if you go for being liked, you are not always respected. 

If you factor in the concept of trust—it becomes even clearer that respect should be your ultimate goal.  How many times have you heard (or maybe said yourself) “I like him, but don’t trust him.”  With respect, trust grows from a basis of shared experiences, discussion, and agreements.  Surely the linkage between trust and respect is stronger than that of likability.

So back to the guy at the camp conference.  I mentioned to him that there are a few things you can do to build a lasting, respectful relationship.  These include:

  1. Speak only for yourself and truthfully

  2. Listen to others and learn how to truly keep an open mind—dialogue, don’t debate

  3. Guide people by words and examples

  4. Give feedback when you believe others are receptive to hearing it and give complete, behavioral examples

  5. Avoid gossip, innuendo, and assumptions

I ended my conversation with him telling him that even though I haven’t worked with Wayne for over 8 years, I still respect him as a leader, manager, and example of how to treat people.  That is not only a long-lasting memory but it is a valuable lesson.  It continues to be so today.

Leave a Reply