I shifted in my chair uncomfortably. Stephan had been leaning forward in his office chair for a while, but mirroring his posture was making my back hurt. Moving backward a bit, I asked him what he meant when he said that people shouldn’t be making decisions to be liked.
Well obviously, when you look at most of the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis, a lot of them are motivated by being liked. Not just on Facebook, but in our regular conversations, people want to be liked. And while that’s very important in personal interactions, it’s devastating for businesses. I’ve noticed this urge creeping in, but in the last few years, it’s grown far more blatant in corporate America, and has trickled into companies. I’ve seen firsthand how managers and senior leaders no longer make decisions based on right or wrong, what’s appropriate or not, or what has integrity or not, instead it’s about “Oh, if I make that decision, will people like that?” And not just “will people like that” but “will people like me?”
Because of this, tough decisions are being evaded, because leaders don’t understand the difference between being liked, and being respected. We’ve all lived this, because we all have had times as children when our parents made decisions we didn’t like. But just because the decisions were unpopular at the time, doesn’t mean we love our parents less. At some point, everyone needs a little “tough love”, even if we don’t always like it. Sometimes, for leaders, making the right decision, even if it is a tough decision, in a respectful way is tough love. Ultimately, this builds respect, and builds consistency. Even a “no” can be a fair response if it’s consistent — if you ask your mom if you can drive her car after drinking too much, the answer was no when you’re 16, no when you’re 30, and will be no when you’re 80.
And while this is an oversimplified example, but wise and correct decisions are respected and appreciated, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Being liked is short term, but using integrity and making the correct decisions for the job or for the business, that’s how you get respect. Because at the end of the day, being liked means nothing without respect, and being liked certainly don’t mean anything for your business.
“My main question,” I said, “having been through a few startups, is that many of these companies tend to act more like groups of friends — they work together, they go out to drinks, they spend all this time together — is what you’re saying more like ‘don’t make friends with your employees’, or is it about finding a balance? Because there have been cases where corporate culture has been driven by this startup mentality, is this something necessary for corporations to grow, or is it something that all organizations should do on every level?”
Startups are their own dangerous animal, so to speak, and it’s difficult. One of my most regrettable decisions came out of that. One of my best friends was an investor in one of my companies, and he had also worked in business development for me. But we eventually came to the point where he… separated from the company because, from a business development standpoint, he wasn’t what we had hoped for and anticipated. Unfortunately, this eventually brought us to a situation where we don’t talk anymore. And, god, 5 or 6 years later, I still regret that I don’t have contact with the guy. I miss our conversations, but was it the right decision? Yes. I have no regrets from a business standpoint. Was it a respectable decision? Yes. On both sides, should we have handled it better or at least differently? Yes.
I gave this example because I don’t want anyone to mix up being liked and respected because of the pitfalls of bringing friends into business. Being friends, and building a business together can be a great thing. But it’s important to remember personal boundaries. Going out to drinks with your boss is questionable, and getting drunk is extremely questionable — not a good idea! In the old school corporate culture, they’d tell you. Someone would pull you off to the side and say, “when you’re out with your boss, don’t drink!” Today in some companies, the culture is that if you don’t go drinking with your boss, you’re a bad employee.
But I promise you, they may not like it, but I promise that if you’re consistent about it and establish boundaries, ultimately people will respect you for it. And anyone who doesn’t, probably isn’t someone you want to be working with. Because if you’re someone who has guiding values for their own life and their own choices, people will respect that.