The Two Pillars of Inspiring Leadership
In my last article, I discussed the foundation of inspiring leadership — that being trust. People will follow a leader voluntarily only when they deem the leader to be trustworthy. Leaders become trustworthy by exercising two traits: uncompromising integrity and complete honesty.
I like to compare this leadership model to a Greek temple. Trust is the foundation. Leadership is the result, or roof. What do the two pillars that rest on the foundation and hold up the roof represent? The two qualities of leadership they represent were nicely framed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who spoke of two classes of leaders — “(leaders) by education and practice, these we respect; and (leaders) by nature, these we love.”
We follow leaders whom we like (or love) and respect. One pillar alone cannot support inspiring leadership.
Striving to be both liked and respected, of course, is no easier for a manager than for a parent. These two goals naturally pull away from each other, rather than converge. They are another set of contraries in the field of leadership; another reason why it is so difficult to become an inspiring leader with inspired followers.
It’s been said that the best leaders have the ability to finesse the contraries of leadership. Experience and intelligence are required to extract the maximum benefit from both goals. In the seminars my firm presents, we explore ways to optimize both qualities.
As a manager and a human being, you have natural inclinations to either want to be liked or want to be respected. Let’s look at the means to both ends.
If you naturally like to be liked, you probably know how to be liked. You probably espouse the following adages: “To have a friend, be a friend” or “to become interesting, become interested.” We like people who ask us questions about what we have done, what we believe, what we intend to do, how we feel, and what’s important to us. We like people who show concern for us, who listen to us and actually hear what we mean (despite our incomplete expressions). We like bosses who have empathy for the unique challenges in our personal lives.
Studies indicate that workers produce more when they feel their bosses empathize with them as individuals. Insensitivity to others has been identified as a primary reason why formerly successful executives become derailed. Who derails them? Their subordinates! Leaders at the top stand on more precarious ground than those below. If your subordinates don’t like you, they may be sabotaging your leadership. They may even be glad when you fail!
If you naturally seek respect over friendship, then you know how to generate respect. ONE CAUTION: Do not confuse respect with fear. Don’t try to push employees past respect for you, and into the realm of fear of you. (Dictators usually freeze employees’ initiative.)
If getting respect for yourself is foreign to your nature, consider a few new tactics. First, dig into your own experience. Think of those leaders or bosses you’ve respected, and imitate with your followers what those leaders did for you. Likely, they considered you capable and held you accountable to produce somewhat beyond what you thought you could. They reviewed your performance in detail, praising the good and objectively showing you how to improve the bad. They didn’t trample your self-image, but they expected results.
Likely, these respected leaders were professionally competent — and confident of their abilities. Likely, they also trusted you. They shared important and confidential information with you, so you could better do your job. Likely, they held a clear vision of what you all, together, could achieve when you combined your abilities into a team effort.
You will gain your followers’ loyalty only if they both like you and respect you. Remember, loyalty cannot be demanded, only granted.
Beware the consequences of not being both liked and respected. If followers don’t like you and don’t respect you, they will be openly critical and seek to sabotage you. If they like you but don’t respect you, they will follow you for a while but only at a distance. If they respect you but don’t like you, they will undermine your projects and even your career.
However, if they both like and respect you, they will serve you as loyal employees. They will feel your concern for their welfare and your confidence in their ability to produce great results. Your support will empower them to reach new heights.
Finessing these two contraries — liking and respecting — is one of the most difficult endeavors a leader undertakes. Italian statesman and political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli said it well: “There is no other way of guarding oneself against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth; but when everyone can tell you the truth, you lose their respect.”
But you knew about these contraries of leadership. You already knew that leading is difficult. As the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche said, “Life always gets harder toward the summit — the cold increases, responsibility increases.” Extracting maximum power out of these two opposites is the challenge of leadership. It is a feat mastered by very few.