What does it take to become an admired and well liked leader? We aspire to become this type of leader, so how do we achieve that? One possible approach is to try to keep everyone happy. After all, research shows happy employees are more productive. This simple approach sounds ridiculous. You know it is impossible to keep everyone happy and yet this is the unconscious goal of many leaders.
Personalities with high empathy encourage a caring approach and prefer to shy away from conflict. This can lead to wanting to please others and not disrupt group harmony. This could also be situational, for example when a person has been promoted to lead their peers. In this instance, they know there could be resentment at being chosen and the natural reaction is to reach out to please your previous peers.
The behavior of wanting to please others is crippling for leaders
In my experience, the behavior of wanting to please others is crippling for leaders. The impacts are not evident in the short term and when they do appear the situation has escalated into a major problem. Let’s take a look at this in more detail.
I am a new leader and I want to make a favorable impression. My team has been working in this area for a long time and they are very experienced. I decide to start off with some introductory 1:1 meetings to get to know others and hear their opinions. The team members happily share their individual points of view with me and I nod agreeably and say they have a good point. “We need to do something about that”. This continues and at the end of the meetings I feel very satisfied, the people seemed pleased. I am off to a good start!
Unconscious bias compromises our decision making
Let’s take a look at what is going on. I want the other person to think favorably of me. To do this I unconsciously put more weight on their opinion and see the world their way. My decision making is compromised. The problem is this works ok in the short term. Everyone is happy, group morale seems positive.
Over time, issues begin to appear. Someone else comes to me with a conflicting point of view and now I can’t keep both happy. I try to compromise by playing both sides and end up breaking trust with each. They both view me as inauthentic. Another situation arises where it is obvious there is a better direction and it conflicts with the initial agreement . Now I am are stuck. Do I let down the person I made the agreement with or compromise the team’s value?
The burden grows over time
The burden of aiming to please grows over time and if your personality is more aligned to pleasing, it becomes more and more stressful. In reality you are playing an un-winnable game. In this situation, the only answer is to change the game.
Develop your leadership point of view
So what is the alternative? Invest time to develop your own leadership point of view. What do you think about current controversial topics? Discuss it with others to gain a well rounded understanding of the issue so you comprehend other’s points of view.
If you get asked about a topic and you aren’t sure, take some time to think about it, unless it demands an immediate response. This is especially important when you are new in the role. Reaching out to others to hear the broader consensus is an effective strategy. If you have to disagree, make sure you understand the other person’s point of view and explain where you disagree, not necessarily why. You may simply see it differently. If we feel heard, that is often enough.
Don’t succumb to short term temptation
All leaders face situations where the easier path is to please the other person, especially if they have more power than you. I recommend you stick to your point of view, and resist the temptation to compromise. It will be more painful in the short term, but in the long run your team and those around you will respect you for it.