Why Leaders Should Not “Like” Their Staff

Guest post from Gerry Czarnecki:

Those who have read my books know that I
believe the greatest injustice we can perpetrate on our staff is to like them.
Yes, I truly believe that liking our staff creates the probability that we will
be biased in our views when we are trying to successfully manage a team.   As I say in my book, Take Two and Call Me in the Morning: 
Prescriptions for a Leadership Headache
, I believe that liking
people can also be a major impediment to being an effective leader.  Allow me to explain.

Take two staff members. The first, A, is
somebody I truly like, while the second, B, is somebody I dislike. Let’s think
about how I behave when I like or dislike someone. The fact is, when we like
somebody, we have a natural inclination to like everything about them.  Indeed, we may have even overlooked their
little weaknesses or failures because we choose to see the best in them. This
is quite natural. On the other hand, when we dislike somebody, we have a
tendency to notice and remember essentially all the weaknesses or failures.
That too is natural.

So, let’s go back to those two staff members.
When A does something good, what is my likely reaction?  Obviously, I will remember their actions and
praise them for a job well done. When B, does something good, I may force
myself to praise them, but it will obviously be less enthusiastic. On the other
hand, when A makes a mistake, I am quite likely to either make excuses, or to
minimize the importance of the mistake. With B, it is likely that I will react
with a less forgiving perspective. I might try to be unbiased, but deep inside,
I am probably saying to myself that I am not surprised that B made a mistake. It
fits with my feelings about that person.

Now I know that some leaders can completely
ignore this bias against the “disliked staff member,” but I know that I have
fallen victim to this mistake.  Though I may
constantly try to avoid it, I often still feel its effects.  “Like” is forgiving and “dislike” is critical.
It is that simple.  We can dislike a team
member even though that person might just be the best performer, and might be
an even better team member with the rest of the associates.  However, our negative feelings cannot allow
us to ignore strengths, just because we feel the weaknesses. If person A had
weaknesses, but we can look past them, for the good of the team, then we must
do the same for B, who might just have enough strengths to be more valuable
than our emotional gut will allow us to recognize.

By the way, the flip side of this argument is
that if we do not have the same sense of caring for the team, no matter what
our feelings, then we will fail the entire team. I talk about loving the team,
not liking.  Here I use the word love to
mean that deep sense of caring for them as humans, no matter what they are as
people. But that is another subject for another day.

Gerry Czarnecki is the author of Take Two
& Call Me in the Morning: 
Prescriptions for a
Leadership Headache. He currently serves as the
Chairman & CEO of the Deltennium Group, which helps organizations achieve
peak performance through effective leadership. 
Previously, he served on the team responsible for the turnaround of the
IBM Corporation.  More information is
available at www.taketwocall.com.