Hated isn’t a term many people would want to have attached to their name, even temporarily. In the modern age of leadership, we are more likely to hear a call for people who are: Servant Leaders, Inspirational, Devoted, Loyal. While all of these terms are certainly qualities that many of the greatest leaders have, the truth is that the best business leaders are also willing to be hated.
I didn’t say, “they want to be hated”. I said, “They are willing to be hated.” I would suggest that if you look at organizations that have been able to make radical changes and become world-class organizations they have been led by someone that was willing to be hated (and in many cases have been) before they were loved and recognized for great leadership.
One of the greatest mistakes new managers make as they take on a new leadership role is that they feel the need to “rally the troops” and be liked by the team they lead. With the idea the team will think, “Whew, finally! A decent manager!”
The second greatest mistake they make, is thinking they have to be an A-hole.
The truth is, they must strike the middle-ground and be willing to err on the side of being hated. They have to not care (for the moment) if they are liked or not liked. The group should for a period, be undecided as to if they think the new manager is great thing or not. That’s one of the reasons a leadership role can be a lonely place. If you are a leader, you’ll have conflict.
Here is what I mean by this: If you’ve been asked to lead a group, your job is to get the very-best from each individual on the team working to deliver whatever it is that team is responsible for. Here’s the problem. Every individual already believes they are doing their best!
Yes, you read that correctly.
No matter what the actual performance of a person is, they believe they are doing 100% of what they are capable of or they have what they believe is a valid reason for not giving 100%.
(Read the paragraph above again…it’s an important truth that you must understand clearly if you expect to lead.)
So, in some way as you start working with your team individually you will be dealing with a person or persons whom you have to disagree with. Whom you must challenge and transform their self-belief into something that more closely resembles reality. Only once the belief is changed, can their behavior change…can their results change.
And if they aren’t giving 100%…they believe they have a valid reason. “Management is lazy or incompetent. They don’t pay me enough. I already work harder than everyone else…etc.” The tough part? Some of these beliefs are based on valid reasons and historically correct opinions. Until you understand them and overcome them, you’ll be stuck.
You can be gentle, inspiring, and servant based in your approach but often you will be hated when you start to challenge a person’s belief about themselves. Hopefully, the hate feeling is just a temporary bridge to a more productive viewpoint and results. You know this to be true if you had a coach in school that really pushed you past what you thought you were capable of physically. I’ll bet you didn’t leave the weekly practice loving the coach. But hopefully at the end of the season, you were better and I imagine in hindsight you see them as a great coach or leader. A coach that made you significantly better than you believed you were capable of being.
So what’s the difference between being willing to be hated and just being an A-hole leader?
I would suggest it boils down to one thing: Authenticity. To the extent you are authentic with the people you lead they will grow despite moments of them hating you when you reveal to them a truth about themselves that they weren’t yet prepared to handle.
When your “best-salesman” realizes that they haven’t been contributing like they should to the team in all aspects. When your “likable manager” realizes that they haven’t been effectively coaching or planning the activities of their team. They’ll hate it (we all would)… but then they’ll grow.
In my role as a sales and leadership consultant, I have seen this cycle many times. I’ve been the “hated” and still in the end had great relationships with those same folks that hated me for a period. Once they realized they were stuck and not growing, and were willing to challenge themselves, they appreciated that I had told them the truth. Sometimes this has even happened after they’ve been fired and moved on to another job. It would be more accurate to say that a leader, “helps a person discover the truth” rather than “tells them”.
What people really need from a leader is authentic truth. They must believe you care about them and believe in them, but will only accept the best from them. You as a leader must believe that the “best from them” is much higher than what they currently believe. We follow people who make us want to be better and who harness our intrinsic belief that we can be.
Here is another leadership truth: Things are only good or bad by comparison.
What do I mean? I mean that people only know what great is by comparing themselves and others to what they have seen. Thus why I said earlier they believe they are doing their best and giving 100%.
I remember when I first started renting cars for travel.
I loved renting cars for travel because they were always better than my car. My piece of junk. I just had a line from the movie, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ come to mind: “I have to admire your piece of Sh@%!, I don’t even have a piece of Sh@%!” It’s different today. In fact, it is completely opposite. I hate renting a car as it’s always worse than my personal car.
Why is understanding this important in leadership? Because your job is to understand how your team member came up with what they define as great. Once you understand the foundation of their belief you can help them discover a better truth. A truth that serves the team better.
Great teams have conflict. The absence of conflict is the death knell to innovation and top performance. Your role as a leader is to draw out conflict in a healthy, non- A-hole like way.
In some cases, you’ll be hated. Embrace that truth. If you can’t handle that truth, you shouldn’t be in a leadership role. You’ll miss the most rewarding aspect of leadership: Seeing a team of individuals all performing at their best and their best being better than they believed possible when you started leading them.
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