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Can a Manager Be Both Liked and Respected?

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: As a manager, I really want my employees to like me. Sometimes, I hesitate to take actions that I know will be unpopular, which I realize is a problem. How can I be better at making tough calls?

A: While you may think you're the only manager who feels this way, let me assure you that this is a common issue. Wanting to be liked is human. So, don't beat yourself up too badly on this one.

Being a manger is tough. You have to be the adult in every situation. You have to make difficult decisions that may make you unpopular, but honestly, being liked is not part of your job description, is it?

Look at it this way: You have a clear role to play in your organization. You've been charged with managing a staff to accomplish the work it takes to meet your organization's mission. Managing people involves giving clear direction and setting expectations. As a manager, you're responsible for developing your employees' potential while coaching them to achieve their goals and the organization's goals. Frequently, to get the best out of your team, you must resolve conflicts and have difficult conversations.

What you really want is for your employees to respect you as their leader because they know the actions you take are in their best interests and those of the organization.

However, it is certainly possible to do all the things you need to do to be a successful manager and still be liked by your staff. I've had plenty of great managers who I truly enjoyed working with. Generally, they were fair and knew how to show appreciation when work was completed.

A good manager finds ways to reward the entire team while also giving special recognition to those who go above and beyond. For example, bring in bagels or pastries for the whole department at the end of a high-visibility project, and give a comp day to the team leader or others who gave up some of their personal time to complete the work on schedule.

If you are hesitating to take needed action because you are afraid your staff won't like you, consider whether you're cut out to be a manager. Some people are more effective as individual contributors. But if you want to succeed as a manager, accept that you may not always be beloved by your staff. What you really want is for them to respect you as their leader because they know the actions you take are in their best interests and those of the organization.

As a manager, you have responsibilty for producing your department's work. You may need to make unpopular decisions to achieve the best outcome—but that's your job. Remember, it's far more important that your employees respect you for the great work you do than that they like you.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]

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