With Martin G. Moore

Episode #1

Respect Before Popularity: Letting go of the need to be liked

In this episode we looked at why letting go of the need to be liked is critical for your success as a leader. I love talking about this, because it’s so closely tied to one of my favourite career killers; the inability to handle conflict.

We’ll cover:

  • The mantra you HAVE to use if you’re going to help yourself move from likeable leader, to respected leader

  • Why wanting to be liked cannot be the goal of a leader

  • Why developing yourself to handle conflict is essential to your leadership success

  • How to recognise the symptoms of conflict aversion in yourself and others (it’s much easier to see in others, but what about when you turn the microscope on yourself!)

  • My key strategies for getting over the need to be liked

  • My daily reflection discipline that will enable you to put the theory into action (you can download these key questions below to keep yourself on track)

I’d love to know how you go using the daily reflections discipline, and whether this has struck a chord with you in your leadership journey.

Head over to my LinkedIn page and send me a message. I’d love to hear from you!


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Episode #1 Respect Before Popularity: Letting go of the need to be liked

Casey Stengel, the iconic baseball player and manager in the US once said,

 “The secret of leading people is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are still undecided.”

With his wry wit, what he was saying was what every leader should learn. We all like to be liked, and in fact, we love to be loved, but needing to be liked as a leader is quite a different proposition. Why is it so important that a leader keeps this in check?

One of my great leadership role models, Paul Scurrah, who’s currently Chief Executive Officer of DP World, taught me the mantra of respect before popularity because popularity to a leader doesn’t actually matter. Respect does. If you want your people to follow you, if you want to be able to get results, and you want to do more than you otherwise could, then you better have this mantra firmly in your mind.

For a leader, being liked simply cannot be a goal. I’ll tell you why…

When I walked into my company each day as chief executive of CS Energy, I knew that 5% of the people in that company hated me for no apparent reason.

Now, there were plenty more than hated me with good reason, but that 5%, I was never going to turn. Whether it was my hairdo, my suit or just my title, some people simply aren’t going to like you. You’ve got to get over that. You can’t spend time and energy dwelling on it. You can’t agonise over it because it’s just the way the world works.

 Interestingly, no leaders actually think that they’re driven by the need to be liked, but so many of us subconsciously are, and this is a career killer that will completely derail you if you’re not careful.

It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You’re absolutely going to be compromised. It drives procrastination in you. It drives a lack of clarity, direction and commitment from your team. It results in lower standards and less discretionary effort. It results in poor team capability and performance, and most importantly, it rubs the individuals in your team of the opportunity to improve. If you withhold performance information because you’re afraid of not being liked, you aren’t doing the right thing by your people, pure and simple.

Why is Respect Over Popularity so critical to leadership success?

Well, basically, it affects everything a leader does.

Think about Building Team Capability and Performance
You have to be able to challenge, coach and confront your people to be able to build team capability and performance. This is a little paradoxical because many leaders believe that keeping people “happy” is what drives discretionary effort. It’s actually not. If you’re not challenging your team, it leaves them weak and suboptimal. They aren’t pushed and stretched to grow, and that comes out of their performance. It affects you as their leader in your brand. They can’t give their best if you don’t help them bring it out.

Think about negotiation
Negotiation is, by definition, a conflict situation. If you can’t sit comfortably in a negotiation, you can’t optimize results. You will make poor decisions. You won’t be able to listen fully, which is a precursor to understanding how to align your position with your counterparts position. You will simply make bad deals.

Think about the team dynamic and contribution in group forums
Many leadership teams are simply too polite. It’s actually a passive defensive culture. Whatever’s going on in their heads, they don’t put it on the table, and they don’t discuss it. They don’t toy with it and toss it around and wrestle with it. That’s essential to getting the best outcomes you can from a team. You’ll be unlikely to create that constructive tension that’s so essential in a high-performing leadership team if you’re more worried about the conflict that occurs and whether or not you’re going to be liked by the decisions you’re making, and the conversations you’re encouraging. You will absolutely train your people to not contribute anything that’s controversial. What you’ll end up with, over time, is simply a team of yes-men. That doesn’t help anyone.

To actually create this environment at CS Energy with my executive leadership team there, I used to talk to the individuals. I’d say to them, “You’ve got to bring something to the table. You’ve got to give me your best, and you’ve got to give me your unique view on what’s happening with any given problem because if you think the same as me, then at least one of us is redundant. Guess what? It’s probably not me.”

Just contemplate how the need to be liked affects your ability to communicate and present with your workforce. Try speaking in front of a hostile crowd in a town hall style meeting at an operational site. If you’re focusing on your need to be liked as opposed to what that audience needs to hear and how you need to present the information, you will hate the experience, and you will eventually avoid it. You’ve got to be able to go into those situations and be confident and calm and rational, and take the questions from the floor. Know that you can deal with them because it’s not about being liked. It’s about getting the right messages through to your people.

Just the ability of your organisation to benefit from diversity of thinking, your people simply won’t bring their best if you don’t get the best out of them. All of this adds up to one thing, in theory or results. This affects everything. It affects your personal leadership brand. It certainly affects the performance of your organisation and the results that you can get. That’s not where you want to be as a leader.

Recognising the symptoms in yourself and those who work for you

The symptoms aren’t always obvious, and let’s face it. It’s much easier to see it in someone else than it is to see in ourselves. Just to illustrate this point, Allstate Insurance, a massive insurer in the US did a survey in 2011 of drivers to try and understand how they rated their driving skills. 64% of drivers surveyed, that’s almost two-thirds, rated themselves as either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ drivers. It was very, very different though when they asked them to comment on other people’s driving skills.

For example, of their friends, the same people said that only 29% were in the ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ category. In terms of their peer age group, it dropped even further to almost one-fifth, 22% of drivers they rated as being ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’.

It’s a case of, ‘I’m okay. You’re not okay’, when you realise this as a leader. Getting to that point where you understand yourself and you can recognise these things in yourself is critical because if your leaders see inconsistency and they see hypocrisy, they aren’t going to follow you.

4 key things to look for in others to try and work out whether they have a problem with the need to be liked and the conflict diversion.

1) Look for unwillingness to address people’s performance issues.

This is the most common one because these are the tougher situations where you have to sit down across the table from another individual, eyeball-to-eyeball, and tell that human being that they aren’t performing the way you need them to. That unwillingness to address people’s performance issues is the most destructive and the most obvious sign of the need to be liked and the conflict diversion.

2) Look for people who are slow to take decisions where there is some disagreement or controversy.

If they procrastinate in their decisions, it’s a sure sign that they don’t want to actually have people off-side. Interestingly though, the higher up you get, the more you realise that every decision has some winners, some losers and some people in between.

3) When your people exhibit signs of extreme stress when challenged or questioned.

You find this quite often coming out in a group forum where something’s being debated, a challenging issue, something where there’s a bit of conflict in the room. You’ll find that some people just withdraw and go into their shells, and even sometimes in a foetal position. You’ve got to be able to recognise this and take those people offline and tell them that you’re actually noticed this, and help them to overcome that problem because they can’t be effective leaders. They certainly can’t be effective team members in a leadership team if that’s the way they behave.

4) Rationalisation for lack of action.

When people aren’t taking action on the things that need to be addressed, they’ll have every excuse under the sun for why they aren’t doing it. Generally, they use the dog-ate-my-homework style of excuses, but as we know in organisations, there are always plenty of things to do. There’s no shortage of work, and I call it busy work because when you’re doing the stuff that keeps you busy, it means you can easily avoid the things that are going to drive value.

As a leader, what actually drives value is how well you use the resources you have at your disposal, be those financial resources, physical resources or in fact, human resources.

What can you do to get over the need to be liked?

1) Focus on what result you want

The key is to take the focus off yourself in the moment and focus on what result you actually want instead.

Now, you’re all sitting there saying, “Marty, that is so obvious.” That’s because the rational mind actually gets this. Everything I’ve said so far is compelling, and it makes perfect sense, but this is not about the rational mind. This is about controlling your emotional state and getting the psychology of this right first.

2) Be open and transparent

To have your integrity intact as a leader, you’ve got to be open and transparent and bring out the best in others. You simply can’t do that if you’re worried about what people think about you and whether or not they like you. If you talk to any senior leader and ask them what their values are, I can almost guarantee you that integrity will be a word they mention, yet for many leaders, integrity is not actually in their repertoire. Now, we know that because we’re watching them from below, but when you’re in the seat and in the slot, it’s a lot harder to do.

3) Put duty of care first before everything else

Leadership is actually a privilege. You have so much power and influence over the way other people’s lives turn out because so much of people’s lives is what they do in the organisation every day. If you don’t respect this and do the best thing by your people, you’re not fulfilling the role as a leader.

Now, many leaders don’t fulfil the role, but my view is, if you don’t want to do it, don’t take the job. Don’t take the pay rise. Don’t take the promotion if you’re not up to that. Everyone deserves competent leadership, but too many people don’t actually get it.

3) Know that feedback is a gift

You have to believe in your heart of hearts that ultimately, it’s in everyone’s best interests to have a leader who puts respect before popularity. One of the things that you have to know deep down is that feedback is a gift. You’re actually doing the best you possibly can with an individual, and even though they may not thank you for it at the time, ultimately, they will respect you for it and they will thank you for it.

I’ve had many, many examples over my career where this has been the case. Now, you’ve just got to work on this until you get comfortable with it, until you actually believe that giving people feedback, one-on-one, directly, competently and compassionately is a key to strong leadership and getting the most out of your people.

This is all well and good when we’re talking about other people, but how are you going to work this out yourself as a leader and hold yourself to account? As a leader, rule number one is eat your own dog food. If you don’t actually demonstrate and model the behaviours you want, no one down below you is going to do that.

I think Vince Lombardi said this best a number of years ago, and if you don’t know who Vince Lombardi is, each year, when the two top teams in American football play each other to see who wins the Super Bowl, Vince is the guy that the trophy is named after. What Vince said was,

“Only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader.”

The Daily Reflection Discipline

What I managed to do a number of years ago was to create what I call the Daily Reflection Discipline. I’ve always lived relatively close to where I work, so a short commute home, maybe about half an hour. In that half hour, that was my unwind time. It was my time to reflect on the day, to work out how things had gone, to work out what I needed to do the next day, but this daily discipline is geared so that I actually ask myself the right questions.

For example, questions like:

  • “What did I avoid today that I know I should have done?

  • Why did I avoid it?

  • Was it because the situation potentially put me in a conflict?

  • Did it challenge my need to be liked?

  • What was potentially hard or uncomfortable about it?

  • What was the impact of this procrastination?

  • What was the impact on my team?

  • What was the impact on the performance of my organisation?

  • Did I rob an individual of the opportunity to grow?

  • When will I next have an opportunity to do what I should have done today?

  • What would have been the outcome if I had done it when I should have?

These questions forced me to consider and contemplate whether or not I’m doing the things I need to do when they need to be done because as a leader, that’s one of the disciplines you have to be able to adopt.

Now, I know that in a senior leadership role, stuff comes at you pretty fast. It’s like you’re in a wind tunnel with things being thrown at you constantly, and you’re reacting a lot of your team to the things that immediately are in front of you, and so having this discipline to stand back and reflect and make sure that you’re always looking to improve is absolutely crucial to your leadership success.


  • Episode 6: The Psychology of FeedbackListen here

  • Episode 22: Feedback Made Easy – Listen here


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  • Leadership Beyond the Theory – Learn More


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