Every once in a while I need to challenge someone by asking, “Do you want to be liked or do you want to be effective?” In one sense it’s a false choice, but in another sense, leaders often will have to make a choice about their function. If the personal need to be liked, affirmed, or appreciated is the primary concern of the leader, effectiveness in how the leader functions in the system will be compromised. For those who choose being popular over being effective, there are five sure ways to accomplish success:
1. Focus on people’s individual needs over the need of the system. Unpopular effective leaders will always seek the welfare of the system as a whole first over meeting the needs of individuals in the system. But popular leaders will keep their radars out and be sensitive about people’s needs, feelings, and predilections, and will focus on meeting those above all. It’s the only way to keep everyone happy, right?
2. Structure your working relationships around triangles. When dealing with persons in the system maintain a triangulated pattern of relationship by always asking and talking about their family or an issue. This will serve to dissipate anxiety by focusing on things other than your direct relationship with persons. People will feel better knowing they will never be called upon to make “I” statements or have to deal with your position on issues.
3. Build cohesiveness in the system by focusing on the “others out there.” If you focus on “them” you can avoid making persons in your system feel like failures because you’ll never require that they take responsibility for themselves. If something goes wrong, blame “them.” If goals aren’t met, blame “them.” In fact, you can squash any ambitious idea and avoid potential failure by declaring that “they” will cause the plan to fail.
4. Take responsibility for people’s functioning and for their feelings. There is nothing that will make you a more popular leader than doing this. Take the blame or allow excuses for the underfunctioners and incompetent in the system. After all, “the buck” stops with you, right? Effective leaders will only take responsibility for their own functioning and their own position in the system, but they forget that everyone loves a leader who “feels your pain.”
5. Finally, popular leaders will work hard at creating a sense of “family” or oneness in the system by getting everyone to think alike, value the same things, share the same opinions and behave the same. Effective leaders always work at fostering personal responsibility and discouraging “group think” or “herding.” But that only leads to problems—it’s a whole lot easier to lead a herd of cattle than to deal with a system full of mature, self-directed, differentiated individuals who have the capacity to express their own ideas and opinions.
Sometimes leaders need to decide whether they want to be liked or whether they want to be effective. Being a likeable leader isn’t too difficult, and everyone likes a “nice guy.” Being an effective leader is never easy, but effective leaders are clear about what constitutes true leadership and they have accepted that there’s often a price to pay when one answers that calling.
From, Perspectives on Congregational Leadership, by Israel Galindo