Why is it so difficult to get over the need to be liked? Because it’s completely ingrained… it’s programmed into all of us. It’s part of our DNA and it’s controlled by our reptilian brain. It’s an instinctive response.
Back in the day, it was all about survival. If you were cast out of the tribe, you wouldn’t survive very long. Your fundamental need for safety was satisfied by belonging to the tribe.
This is at the foundation of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Until your physiological needs and the need for security and safety are satisfied, you’ll never be able to meet your higher order needs.
But, counterintuitively, to be a competent leader you have to overcome that fundamental evolutionary urge.
The need to be liked is such an ingrained part of who we are as humans, that it takes real effort to manage. We never truly overcome the need for positive regard and acceptance, but we can learn to control it with our rational brain.
Putting Respect Before Popularity requires a huge amount of empathy, which is why it’s so important to have a highly-developed EQ. It means you have to care about your people more than your own minor discomfort – your fear, your apprehension, and your awkwardness.
Isn’t it ironic that the road to higher empathy winds its way straight through the mire of conflict, challenge and accountability?
Once you understand the true power of leadership and how much impact it can have on those you lead, you can begin to think about putting their wellbeing ahead of any of the implications for you personally, which will be immaterial in comparison.
But it’s tricky to know how to proceed. In these enlightened times, we’re told that our job as leaders is to help people fulfill their personal aspirations, and to live their best lives, bringing their whole selves to work.
I’m sorry, but that’s just bullsh!t… our primary job as a leader is to get results, and deliver value. And if you do that the right way, your people will find the deep self-esteem and true motivation that comes from achieving difficult things, and being part of a winning team.
This doesn’t happen without a leader who’s willing to do hard things.
So think about that fact and use this mantra to overcome your primitive programming:
“There’s no real danger to me. I’m just allowing my reptilian brain to drive me. The short-term risk of not being liked is way lower than the long-term detriment to me and the people around me if I don’t step into this conflict willingly. I have to be respected to get this job done, but being liked is optional. I have a job to do.”
Then of course, once you understand this principle and really believe it deep down, you just shorten that rather lengthy affirmation to: Respect Before Popularity.