Welcome to the No Bullsh!t Leadership Podcast. In a world where knowledge has become a commodity, this podcast is designed to give you something more: access to the experience of a successful CEO who has already walked the path, so join your host, Martin Moore, who will unlock and bring to life your own leadership experience and excite your journey to leadership excellence.
Hi there. Welcome to episode one of the No Bullsh!t Leadership Podcast. This episode's entitled Respect Before Popularity aka letting go of the need to be liked. We're going to cover a few things here. First of all, why needing to be liked is a symptom of a deeper problem, which is conflict diversion. Then, we're going to talk about why getting over this is absolutely essential to your leadership success. We're going to cover off how you'd recognize the symptoms in both your self and others. We're going to talk about how you actually get over the need to be liked, and I'm going to give you a daily reflection discipline, which is essential to your self-reflection capability to make sure that you can actually become a leader who doesn't believe their bullshit. Let's get on with it.
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 leadership 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. And 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 of the 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 agonize 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 getting over this so critical to leadership success? Well, basically, it affects everything a leader does. Think about building team capability and performance. To do that, you have to be able to challenge, coach and confront your people. 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 organization 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 these 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 organization and the results that you can get. That's not where you want to be as a leader.
How would you recognize the symptoms of this problem in your self and the leaders who work for you? The symptoms aren't always obvious, and let's face it. It's much easier to see them 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 realize this as a leader, obviously, getting to that point where you understand yourself and you can recognize these things in yourself is just so important because if your leaders see inconsistency and they see hypocrisy, they aren't going to follow you.
Let's talk about the four 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. The first thing is, look for unwillingness to address people 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 performance issues is the most common. It's the most destructive, and it's the most obvious sign of the need to be liked and the conflict diversion.
The second thing is, 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 realize that every decision has some winners, some losers and some people in between. The third thing is 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 recognize 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.
The fourth thing is rationalization 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 pretty much dog-ate-my-homework style of excuses, but as we know in organizations, there is 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.
Let's talk about a few things that we can do to get over the need to be liked and not to have that dominate the way we operate as leaders. 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.
I've already spoken about what doesn't work when you take popularity over respect. First of all, building team capability and performance is impossible. Negotiation is going to be sub-optimized. You cannot be a good negotiator if you are self-interested in the way something makes you feel. You certainly can't create the right team dynamic and get the right contribution that you need from your leadership team in group forums. Your communicating and presenting will be weak because you'll be afraid of what the audience is thinking and what they're going to ask you. The ability to benefit from diversity of thinking is sub-optimized, and your people simply won't be asked to bring their best.
Now, I'm sure that you can add even more things to this list, but what it's about is focusing on the results you want, not on how you feel in the moment. The next thing is that if you believe that integrity matters, this is where the rubber meets the road. 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.
Here's another thing that may help you over this need to be liked. That is that you need to put your duty of care as a leader first before everything else. Leadership is actually a privilege. You actually 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 organization 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.
Finally, 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, because 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."
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 organization? 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 just force 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.
Okay, so that brings us to the end of episode one, Respect Before Popularity. I'm going to have a free downloadable for you, which is just the Daily Reflection Discipline questions. I'll have an example that was close to my heart from early this year, one that was very pertinent to me, and a blank one so that you can actually start to develop that discipline yourself, but don't be afraid to play with the questions and to work with the questions that actually work for you. To pick up the downloadable, go to www.yourceomentor.com/episode1.
Thanks very much for joining us, and remember that at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally, so if you liked this episode, please share it with another leader who you think might benefit from it. I look forward to next week's episode where we delve into what it really takes to create a high performing team. Until then, I know you'll take every opportunity you can to be a no bullsh!t leader.